In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Great songs in terrible movies.
If Johnnie To’s dazzling corporate musical Office is an object lesson in how a superb stylist can make something remarkable out of an undistinguished set of songs, then Xanadu is its opposite—the Goofus to its Gallant, a roller-disco musical that boasts a catchy pop score by Electric Light Orchestra, an extravagant production design budget, and Gene Kelly, and still manages to be soporific and amateurishly ugly.
Director Robert Greenwald would later re-invent himself as one of the most popular liberal pamphleteers of the George W. Bush era (Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War On Journalism, Wal-Mart: The High Cost Of Low Price), but his debut feature stands as a testament to how hard it is to make something stylized when you have no taste whatsoever. Nowhere is that more evident than in the “All Over The World” sequence, which sets the soundtrack’s best song—a generic but strangely irresistible vocoder-assisted party anthem, with layers of wooshing synths and strings and a stomping, clapping rhythm section—to a reject pile’s worth of terrible aesthetic ideas.
The theme, junior-prom-style, seems to be “costume shop,” with Kelly—then in his late 60s, but still limber—trying on a variety of bad getups and occasionally shrugging, as though he were acknowledging that he has no idea how any of it is supposed to work. There’s a small army of dancers (none of whom seem to be choreographed to the music), a whole lot of sci-fi sound effects, and a flurry of quick cuts and optically-printed transitions that are perversely out-of-sync with the song’s simple beat. Somewhere underneath it all, one can still faintly sense the energy of the song, which became a Top 20 hit while the movie itself became a financial failure. Readers are advised to watch at their own risk.