A Fitting Tribute
What better way to pay homage, Outfest reasoned, than with a "Xanadu" sing-along at the Ford Amphitheatre, that arcadian bower perched above the Hollywood Freeway's roar, across from the Bowl? And what better way to put aside errant thoughts of, oh, the swooning stock market, global warming and the pending U.S.-Iraq war?
And so it was that, following the example of "The Sound of Music," "Grease," "Mary Poppins" and other Hollywood classics recently reborn as group karaoke-fests, what some billed as the world's first official "Xanadu" sing-along was held Thursday.
Outfest braced for some 1,200 Museheads to show up (which they did), to lift champagne flutes, shout preemptive wisecracks at the screen, flick their butane lighters during the ballads and cheer the main characters toward a Hollywood happy ending. Costumes and props were encouraged but, for safety reasons, roller-skates weren't. "But we'll be skating in our hearts," Kelley predicted.
A kind of "Wizard of Oz" for the pre-Reagan era, "Xanadu" was a fairy tale that spoke in code language to its times and its largely closeted devotees. Much like "The Wizard of Oz," which gained pathos in hindsight because it opened in 1939, on the eve of global warfare, "Xanadu" was a harmless cinematic bonbon that could be savored guiltlessly before life started going to hell for some of those who cherished it: It premiered the summer before the first murky news of an obscure "gay cancer" hit the headlines.
It also was a great date movie, whether your date had a beard or not. "It was one of those test movies," said Anderson, who is gay. "If he could sit through the movie, if you got it, you were sort of like my kind of person."
Pretty ironic considering that, for a time, Anderson "couldn't tell anybody" about his secret "Xanadu" passion. Instead he'd claim that his license plate referred to the fabulous mansion in "Citizen Kane" or to Coleridge's famous poem. For Anderson, "Xanadu" was the celluloid love that dared not speak its name.
(This may be the place to recall that Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772-1834, writes of Xanadu in the first line of his poem "Kubla Khan" as an enchanted palace within a walled garden, "a stately pleasure dome." In a famous literary footnote, Coleridge later said he had written the poem immediately upon waking from a long dream, scribbling his recollections down as fast as he could. But before he could finish, a businessman banging on his door broke the poet's train of thought. The remainder of "Kubla Khan" consists of Coleridge's fervent plea that a muse materialize and help him retrieve his fleeting impressions. The poem's imagery is lush, hallucinatory, extravagant. Reading it you may think, "Wow, what drugs was this guy on?" According to Coleridge, it was a prescription anodyne.)
Anderson and other fans also believe that "Xanadu" is one of the most evocative films ever set in Los Angeles, a city that always seems to be half asleep, dreaming contentedly of itself. In the movie, L.A. appears at its most air-headed and ephemeral, but also at its most tolerant and open-minded. Museheads take pride in pointing out that the cast is ethnically mixed (though largely in nonspeaking roles).
The city also looks ravishing, attired in the kind of late-afternoon light that locals describe as "pearly." You might say that Los Angeles itself is "Xanadu's" muse. "It [the movie] reveals more about the time and place than I think it meant to," said Larry Wilson, a professional magician and friend of Anderson's. "It's so L.A., in the clothes and the look and the peoples' concerns."
Missed the Sing-Along
Needless to say, Anderson was heartbroken when he found out he couldn't attend the sing-along. But he had the best of excuses: By an all-but-unimaginable coincidence, he had decided to design an entire weekend of his dance-exercise class around a "Xanadu" theme, and he would need to spend the day of the sing-along getting ready for it.
His plans were all set. He would play only music from the soundtrack, plus some other classic Olivia and ELO stuff. He would decorate the Quest fitness and spiritual center in Santa Monica, where he works as an independent contractor, with "Xanadu" paraphernalia.
Much of the handiwork was done by his partner, Bruce Zwinge, who runs the costume shop for Cal State L.A.'s theater department. There'd be "Xanadu"-themed contests and giveaways throughout the two-day event, which was held Saturday and Sunday, two days after the sing-along. Zwinge said that his partner had dreamed of throwing a "Xanadu" party for years, and only learned of the sing-along by accident a couple weeks ago. "I was shocked," Zwinge said.