BWW Special Feature: A Look Back at Xanadu

The following feature is courtesy of James (Jim) Burns who wrote began writing features for magazines, when he was in his teens. In 1980, Jim's first cover story for Jim Steranko's PREVUE was a look at that summer's explosion of rock movies.

"If there's an irony, here, it's that the next planned film of XANADU's executive producer, Lee Kramer (Olivia Netwon John's manager, at the time, and former boyfriend), was Jack Kirby's and Stan Lee's THE SILVER SURFER. Twenty-seven years later, from other producers, XANADU has opened on Broadway, and Marvel Comics' Surfer finally made his celluloid debut in this summer's FANTASTIC FOUR sequel...."

We hope you enjoy Jim's feature.

"XANADU started off as a roller-disco picture," reveals Lee Kramer (the film's executive producer and Olivia Newton John's personal manager). "Larry Gordon, its producer, and Joel Silver, the involved Universal executive, never had it in mind to even TRY to attract stars of Olivia's or Gene Kelly's stature. The script came to us through our AGENTS.

"Once we showed some interest in XANADU, the project began to go through a complete metamorphosis. We eliminated disco ALTOGETHER. WE really wanted to make an old fashoioned Hollywood musical. Without going into much detail, the plot concerns a young man (Michael Beck), who has the dream of building an incredible 'fun palace'. Olivia plays one of the nine muses from Greek mythology--a kind of angel--who comes down to earth and helps these dreams come true. Gene Kelly plays an old man type character. All of these movies have made the movie something SPECIAL. XANADU now has a pristine elegance."

Due to its whimsical theme, XANADU will probably escape comparison to this summer's "grittier" rock oriented films, but since Olivia Newton John is the movie's star, it WILL be matched against GREASE.

"GREASE was much spoofier than XANADU is," says Kramer. "XANADU is a little more esoteric. It would be the next film if anybody were to have made a sequel to GREASE and tried to smoothe all of its edges and make a more prestigious sort of movie. Like GREASE, however, XANADU's only real intent is to ENTERTAIN the public. If the film has a hidden message, it's simply that if you believe enough in yourself, your dreams can come true."

Albeit GREASE was a major success, John's performance in the musical was almost universally panned. Could her involvement in XANADU prove to be detrimental to the film's critical reception?

"It seemed that a lot of the critics didn't give Olivia credit for playing any sort of a role in GREASE," Lee recalls. "They just felt she was very lightweight, but when you realize the absurdity of having a twenty-nine-year old woman playing an eighteen-year old girl, you begin to understand that Olivia actually did VERY well. XANADU is a total step for her; an absolutely perfect extension. Olivia really comes across as a full fledged actress, There's no question that should this film become a hit, and perhaps even if it doesn't, Olivia's going to get the acknowledgement that she deserves."

XANADU promises to deliver some spectacular production numbers,choreographed by Kenny Ortega (THE ROSE, Kiss' last world tour) and Jerry Trent (MOVIE, MOVIE). One of the best scenes SHOULD be a duet between a swing band and The Tubes.

"It's a '40s-'80s number that's sort of a dream sequence where we have a swing band play a passage of music with zoot suit dancers, and The Tubes play a modern rock song," describes Kramer. "It's kind of like counterpoint. We cut from a few seconds with the swing band to a few seconds with The Tubes and so on until finally, at the end of the scene, the bands come together and play. The ultimate effect is INCREDIBLE. We literally have two totally different songs--in fact, the whole film, due to the complexity of the production numbers--was a MONSTER to shoot."

Perhaps even MORE of a challenge to Lee Kramer will be his next movie, a twenty-five million dollar rock influenced adaptation of Marvel Comics' THE SILVER SURFER, the story of an intergalactic herald who travels aboard a cosmic surfboard.

"I originally got turned onto THE SILVER SURFER in the 1960s when the character first appeared, but I wasn't in any way involved in this business at the time," reflects Kramer. "Once I WAS in a position to negotiate for the comic's film rights, I jumped at the chance to get them.

"Stan Lee (THE SILVER SURFER's co-creator, with Jack Kirby, and Marvel Comics' publisher) and I get along very well, but he's totally into the idea of doing THE SILVER SURFER as a rock opera. I don't think that the rock opera films (TOMMY, SGT. PEPPER'S) have worked too well; there's a need for dialogue to tie a movie together. Music, however, WILL play a very important part in the film. We're going to make an epic picture on the scope of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY with the kind of soundtrack that that film had, only using CONTEMPORAY rock and roll. It's even conceivable that the Surfer might have a chant or a fanfare made up of ONE THOUSAND ELECTRIC GUITARS...

"I'm really very lucky," Lee finishes. "Doing THE SILVER SURFER has ALWAYS been a dream of mine, and now it's going to be realized."

James H. (Jim) Burns, a writer/actor living in Long Island, New York, has written features for such magazines as GENTLEMAN'S QUARTERLY, ESQUIRE and TWILIGHT ZONE. He can be heard frequently as a guest on radio talk shows, throughout the United States.

Original Article © Copyright 1980 James H. Burns
This Revised Segment © Copright 2007 James H. Burns

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