Join WONDER: Women of Fantasy and Science Fiction for our first session on January 24th, featuring Xanadu (with audience sing along participation) at Central Cinema!
Xanadu may seem like an odd choice to begin an intersectional feminist film series. And it is! Bear with me, though.Xanadu is absurd, it’s poorly edited, and it’s a musical. The Broadway adaptation makes fun of its source material by calling it a fairy tale for gay forty-year-olds. But that’s why we love it. The story is a mash-up of a dance film, a brief rollerdisco moment in pop culture, and outright Greco-Roman mythology, featuring some of Electric Light Orchestra’s best work. It’s a mess, but an adorable, charming mess.
Olivia Newton John plays “Kira,” who is actually Terpsichore, the muse of dance. She’s come to earth with her eight sisters (a multiethnic mix of principle dancers who start the film with plenty of close-ups) to inspire an artist. Why does the muse of dance pick a painter to inspire? Why does she hook him up with her ex-beau, Gene Kelly, a retired big band musician? Why does it take this combo of painter, musician, and muse of dance to open a rollerdisco?
Who cares? It’s Xanadu.
And now for the unpleasant content. Greco-Roman mythology and folklore, for the uninitiated, is really rapey. The Athenians were particularly misogynist, which extended into their same-sex relationships (much like in our culture). Xanadu updates this for 1980 in curious ways. The film begins with Sonny (Michael Beck), the frustrated artist. We can easily apply Laura Mulvey’s theory of the gaze to this character throughout the film, but particularly in the first act. He’s consistently ogled by women, invited on blind dates with a friend of a friend, and his first contact with Kira involves her skating up behind him, kissing him without consent, and disappearing. This is a charged sequence to consider in the #metoo era. If the genders were reversed, many of us would be quick to call it sexual harassment. Sonny doesn’t seem to mind, which absolves the behavior (on screen, that is).
But I digress: Sonny is the object. Soon, Kira becomes objectified as well, but for the first act, she’s more the subject, observer, and aggressor. On Thursday, we’ll talk more about who has agency and power—the human men? The demigoddess pulling their strings? The superior gods pulling hers?
We’ll discuss the screen time given to the femme/genderqueer, Black, male-bodied dancers, resplendent in makeup and giving Fosse vogue. We’ll talk about the tender chemistry between Michael Beck and Gene Kelly. We’ll also look at the interplay between toxic masculinity and capitalism, summed up by the line, “If I didn’t pay her, she doesn’t exist.”
Sound like something you’d like to discuss? Then join us.
Starring Olivia Newton John, Gene Kelly, Michael Beck
Subgenres: musical, dance, skating, mythology, romance
Directed by Robert Greenwald
Written by Richard Christian Danus and Marc Reid Rubel
Music: Jeff Lynne, John Farrar, and Barry de Vorzon (performed by Olivia Newton John, Gene Kelly, Electric Light Orchestra, The Tubes, and studio musicians)
Animation: Don Bluth
Bechdel Test: Kind of a pass. Three women discuss financial matters, but their characters are only named in the credits, not in the cut of the film.
Mako Mori Test: Fail. Kira has a narrative arc, but it’s used to support the arc of a male character.
Sexual Harassment: Low. Female strangers kiss, stare at, and flirt with a man (he doesn’t seem to mind). Male and female characters keep trying to set him up with their female friends and family.
WONDER: Women of Fantasy and Science Fiction presents XANADU
Thursday, January 24, 2019
opening talk & screening 7:00pm
Hosted by Evan J. Peterson and Abie Ekenezar
1411 21st Avenue
Seattle WA 98122
Sponsored by Scarecrow Video
For the love of wonder,
Evan J. Peterson
WONDER is a community class merging film with education and offering an accessible forum outside of academia. The goal is to offer low-cost opportunities to learn about film and women’s studies and to inspire more diverse filmmakers, especially women, to get involved as creators in the genre.