It's hard for even me to believe this, but the camp classic Xanadu has been reincarnated as a Broadway musical, opening today. When Xanadu came out as a movie in the summer of 1980, the story of Olivia Newton-John as a Greek goddess coming to life in Venice Beach probably didn't make a lot of sense to anyone over the age of 18. The plot was pretty incoherent and the heroic goal was to open a roller disco, after all. But if you were a 12-year-old girl, the story gave you plenty to do for the rest of the summer as you wrapped your barrettes in ribbons, put on your leg warmers, and roller-skated around the block for the thousandth time. The movie's low-tech special effects were actually a plus, because it was easy to pretend you were a wall mural coming to life with your friends.
Though Xanadu was light on product placements, it did have a great soundtrack, with ELO songs on one side of the album and Olivia Newton-John on the other.
Is there a larger significance to this strange piece of pop culture and its revival? Xanadu is an excellent marker for the end of the 1970's. Though it came out in 1980, it represents the last gasp of disco culture, with just a hint that there might be something new coming around the corner. As Entertainment Weekly notes in its July 13 issue), the movie hit the theaters just as "disco sucks" was becoming the new catchphrase.
But if you were a kid like me who had grown up during the disco era, all too aware that the whole culture was revolving around a mirrored ball, but you were too young to go to clubs or even watch Saturday Night Fever, Xanadu was a welcome coda to the era. Before disco faded off into the distance, it left us a pop-culture milestone that we could call our own.
And for those who are marking current social trends, the return of Xanadu and the Transformers can only mean one thing: Gen X and Y culture is finally getting room on the stage next to Boomer nostalgia. It may be highly calculated commercial marketing, but for a generation who has grown up in the shadow of the Boomers, I think we'll take all the attention we can get.