A place where nobody dared to go
The love that we came to know
They call it Xanadu
And now, open your eyes and see
What we have made is real
We are in Xanadu
A million lights are dancing
And there you are, a shooting star
An everlasting world and you’re here with me
Xanadu – Xanadu (now we are here)
Xanadu – Xanadu (now we are here)
Xanadu is a 1980 American romantic musical fantasy film written by Richard Christian Danus and Marc Reid Rubel and directed by Robert Greenwald. The title is a reference to the nightclub in the film, which takes its name from Xanadu, the summer capital of Kublai Khan’s Yuan Dynasty in China. This city appears in Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poem that is quoted in the film. The film’s plot was inspired by 1947’s Down to Earth. In that film, Rita Hayworth played the Muse Terpsichore, opposite male lead Larry Parks, who played a producer of stage plays.
Xanadu stars Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck, and Gene Kelly, and features music by Newton-John, Electric Light Orchestra, Cliff Richard, and The Tubes. The film also features an animated sequence by Don Bluth, former Disney animator for the ELO song Don’t Walk Away.
Xanadu turned 35 this month, and it seems was yesterday I went to the theater to watch this movie. Xanadu opened in theaters on August 8, 1980, and was originally conceived as a relatively low-budget roller disco picture. As a number of prominent, A-list performers joined the production, it evolved into a much larger project, while retaining rollerskating as a recurring theme, especially in the final scenes of the club’s opening night.
35 years, 35 facts about Xanadu you don’t need to know
1. Gene Kelly’s final feature film.
2. Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John’s dance number was filmed after filming had finished. Gene Kelly choreographed it. His conditions included a closed stage with only himself, Newton-John, a cameraman, a choreographer he had befriended, and two others.
3. Andy Gibb was originally cast to play Sonny.
4. After Kira tells Sonny she is one of the Greek muses, she starts to say, “My real name is Terp”, but Sonny shushes her, and she never reveals her real name. She is there to help him open a dance club, and she is obviously a dancer , so her name is most likely Terpsichore, after the Greek muse of dance.
5. Since fantasy is Xanadu‘s main theme, certain mattes, including some time-lapsed cloud effects matted over one muse’s departure along the highway, and another matted above Gene Kelly as he sits on a beach playing a clarinet, don’t look 100% realistic. This was intentional, done with the hope that the sequences would look mythical and unreal, rather than phony.
6. According to Olivia Newton-John, the script was written during filming.
7. Danny McGuire jokes “they used to have wrestling here.” In real life, the Pan Pacific Auditorium used to stage wrestling matches.
8. The choreography in the Gene Kelly-choreographed “Whenever You’re Away From Me” is nearly identical to the choreography in the song “For Me and My Gal” (the version that takes place in a coffee shop) in the 1942 film of the same name, which starred Gene Kelly and Judy Garland.
9. Olivia Newton-John turned down a role in “Can’t Stop the Music” (1980) to star in this movie.
10. The Pan Pacific Auditorium, on Beverly Boulevard, in Hollywood, near CBS’s Television City, was used for exterior shots of the Xanadu Club. It was built in 1935, and destroyed by a fire in 1989. A community center now sits on the site, featuring a single version of the Pan Pacific’s 4 curved deco spires.
11. Olivia Newton-John fractured her coccyx while filming the dance sequence “Suddenly”.
12. The soundtrack was an enormous success. The song “Magic” went to #1 on the U.S. pop singles chart. In the UK, the soundtrack album peaked at number two, and the single “Xanadu” was #1 for two weeks in July 1980.
14. John Travolta turned down the role of Sonny Malone.
15. Because “Xanadu” is an earthbound fantasy, many of the elaborate matting effects had to be successfully worked into naturalistic settings and street scenes. For example, one muse exits as a live-action tapered streak from within the metal superstructure of a large building. Robert Greenwald said “Xanadu”‘s effects were much harder than his most impressive effects in space.
16. The mural in the film was created in post-production. A digital image was superimposed over a shop in an alleyway on Dudley Avenue and Ocean Front Walk in Santa Monica, California.
17. Joel Silver, Robert Greenwald, and Victor J. Kemper wanted more elaborate special effects, but that became impossible when Universal Pictures moved the release from Christmas 1980 to summer 1980.
18. Olivia Newton-John met Matt Lattanzi, who had a minor role, during filming. Afterward, Lattanzi accompanied Newton-John to Australia on a promotional visit for “Xanadu” (1980), and met her parents. They married in 1984, had one child, Chloe Lattanzi, and divorced in 1995.
19. “Don’t Walk Away”, an animated sequence in the film, features scenes nearly identical to portions of “Thumbelina” (1994), namely a shot of a small girl walking behind a leaf. Both were directed by Don Bluth.
20. The film was meant to launch Olivia Newton-John’s career as a solo star. Due to its complete failure at the American box office, it became the one and only time she received top billing without a co-star in a theatrical release.
21. The Xanadu Roller Disco scene included 60 Xanadu Dancers.
22. The original budget was $4 million, but costs rose to $13 million. Universal head Ned Tanen fired Joel Silver, who immediately went to work for his friend and mentor Lawrence Gordon, who was also a producer on the film, and put Joel Silver back on the project.
23. This film, playing as a 99-cent double-feature with “Can’t Stop the Music” (1980), inspired John Wilson to create the Golden Raspberry Awards (a.k.a. Razzies), honoring the worst achievements in film. Robert Greenwald later won the first Worst Director Razzie Award.
24. Originally after their sunset walk, Kira and Sonny went back to Xanadu on the eve of its opening, where she sang “Suspended in Time” to him. The scene then transitioned to Sonny’s apartment, where the tune finished and Kira then revealed her true nature. This version of the song was shot and was featured in the “Making Xanadu” TV special.
25. The set of the Xanadu club cost $1,000,000 to build.
26. The title comes from the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem “Kubla Khan.”
27. According to the two-page booklet included with the DVD, the film was originally conceived as a low-budget roller-disco movie. The imminent release of “Skatetown, U.S.A.” (1979) and “Roller Boogie” (1979) prompted many changes, like blending 1940s and 1980s styles.
28. Robert Greenwald’s directorial debut.
29. Olivia Newton-John’s last big-screen musical until Score: “A Hockey Musical” (2010), 30 years later. Her next film, “Two of a Kind” (1983) was not a musical, though she sang songs for the soundtrack.
31. This film is one of three disco musicals released in 1980. The others were “The Apple” (1980) and “Can’t Stop the Music” (1980).
32. The word Xanadu is spoken 21 times in the last song.
33. Gene Kelly’s character Danny McGuire has the same name as his character in “Cover Girl” (1944).
34. Joe Mantegna was in the film’s cast, but the scenes he appeared in were deleted.
35. Sandahl Bergman (“Conan, the Barbariun”, 1982) played one of the Muses. The other Muses are played by Lynn Latham, Melinda Phelps, Cherise Bate, Juliette Marshall, Marilyn Tokuda, Yvette Van Voorhees and Teri Beckerman.