XANADU (1980) is a musical directed by Robert Greenwald. The title of the film is a reference to the poem "Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which is quoted in the film.
04/18/10 | Film


by Paul Cunningham

It is suddenly summer and it is time for John. John straps on a pair of white roller skates with red rolling wheels and red laces. He skates for miles for magic. He skates down ramps of melted vinyl and over a mirage simmering in a Hollywood studio. A desert mirage where trains hover above dunes and mystery women hover above their morning coffee. John’s wheels hover too. He moves like a laser beam—heels pumping—light circulation rising—neon devouring his body like fiber-optic lips devouring fiber-optic lips.

Lifting himself onto the nearest train, he meets a Peruvian conquistador named Xanadu. She is dressed in black spandex jumpsuit with metallic shoulder pads with long twisting barbs with silver make-up paints and starry-eyed bicuspids protruding. You are amusing he says and Xanadu explains she is traveling back to Peru to focus on her music career. She has grown tired of the agonizing life of a conquistador and she has recently purchased a used PPG synthesizer from one of the members of Tangerine Dream. Together they sit on the train. John orders a sparkling limeade. Xanadu orders a glass of Kosta Browne Pinot Noir. Not a big wine drinker he says, sipping his sparkling limeade. She laughs and invites John to spend a few nights in her Peruvian palace on the Altiplano plateau. He agrees and they continue sitting together. He unties his skates as the train crosses the Atlantic Ocean. Now that you’re here—now that you’re near, I feel like I won’t need to fake an orgasm she says.

The train arrives in Peru and John wakes up feeling groggy and malnourished. Xanadu kisses him on the cheek and whispers something into his ear. We’re going to be getting off the train soon, so I have a favor to ask of you. Leave the roller skates on the train.


I’d really appreciate it if you’d leave your skates on the train.

Skates on a train. Xanadu and John depart and an older gentleman wearing a brown fedora discovers a pair of white roller skates with red rolling wheels and red laces. He lifts them from an empty seat and stuffs them into a leather satchel. On the floor, the gentleman discovers a used syringe.

Xanadu and John arrive at the Altiplano plateau and John is feeling lightheaded and nauseous. Inside, Xanadu’s palace is one large decorated bedroom. Stuffed monkeys hang from chandeliers and wall lamps and plastic plants in expensive vases. A bed rests in the north—a fireplace in the west—a cabinet full of paddles and whips in the east—an electric guitar in the south. John lies down on the bed and Xanadu picks up the guitar.

Take off your pants while I play you a song.

His feet go cold. He forgets his name. A crowd gathers around a body in a Hollywood studio.

An older gentleman parks his car in front of a roller-rink. A Buddy Rich song is on the radio. The older gentleman turns off his radio and finishes the song without the help of Buddy Rich. He hums and walks quickly toward the building. A gust of wind knocks his brown fedora off his head. He doesn’t look back. He leaves it rolling around the parking lot.

He enters the building. He talks to the lady at the counter. Her name is Lindsay. He places a leather satchel on the counter and explains he does not need to rent skates—he hands her only the admission fee—he gives her a smile—he enters the roller-rink. He says Goodnight, Lindsay.

The older gentleman sits down in a chair and watches the skaters move around the rink. Swans on a circular hardwood stream. Swan after swan and a clock on a wall. It is time. The older gentleman straps on a pair of white roller skates with red rolling wheels and red laces. He stands up and skates onto the hardwood floor. He carries his satchel at his side. He hums Buddy Rich slowly as he skates slowly past couples and trios of children and teens. He hums Buddy Rich slowly as he passes a female that resembles his late wife. He hums Buddy Rich quickly as he reaches for a pistol in the bottom of his satchel.

Everybody off the fucking floor!

The wheels of his skates spin along the hardwood floor. The wheels in his eyes spin like the vibrant lights on the ceiling. He follows morsels of light attached to a disco ball. He skates along the hardwood floor with his gun pointed in the air. Children squeal and people cry out. It is 1980. He feels like he is hallucinating. He feels like a body’s chalk outline on a brick wall in an unused alley.

Glowing down. Glowing down. To a sunless sea.