The breakdown of ‘I’m Alive’ from ‘Xanadu’


Recently, I had reason to show co-workers the “I’m Alive” dance scene from the movie “Xanadu.” It was mainly because I was discussing how much I disliked Electric Light Orchestra’s “I’m Alive,” but in the context of the movie, the song was less awful. (I still dislike it, but it’s still fine in context.)

As I narrated the clip (yes I did), it occurred to me that I could provide this service to the world.

Let me be clear: This is an area of “Xanadu” love. I will not call it a guilty pleasure. I feel no guilt loving every second of this horrible mess. I love this era of Olivia Newton-John. (I didn’t turn against her until “Physical.”)

No hatred for this movie will be allowed. If you don’t like it, I get it. Go away and let me have my fun.

(The album is No. 261 on The Big List.)

Trust me, only someone who loves this movie as much as I do can express love with the utter contempt and mocking that I do.

You know what? Some people like Adam Sandler movies. I like “Xanadu.” Same difference.

The video of the opening is embedded here. I will help walk you through it, just as I did with my co-workers.

OK, let’s set the scene. We see a wall at the end of some alley. On it is a painted portrait of Zeus’ daughters. (No one said this was a documentary.)

As the clip begins, we see pieces of paper falling down. The dude from “The Warriors” has torn up a drawing and said, “Guys like me shouldn’t dream anyway.” Which DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING.

But, see, there’s true inspiration in this destroyed drawing. The torn pieces approach a painting of Zeus’ daughters. On a building wall, apparently in an alleyway or in the least trafficked space. In Los Angeles.

0:09 – The first muse arises. The hair whip move was surprisingly common in the 1980s.
0:30 – Look how happy she is to be pulled away from the wall! Onto what appears to be a green-screen set, and the background is black. How much more black could it be? None more black.
0:38 – Was that her ass bumping up against the wall to wake up the next sister? It was, wasn’t it?
Would this be a good place to point out that Electric Light Orchestra had a hit three years earlier with a song called “Turn to Stone”? Probably not.
The whole purple outline effect was just as cheesy then as it is now, but for some reason, I find it oddly comforting. I mean, honestly, compared with the rest of the movie, it looks like they blew the budget on this scene.
1:06 – Pay special attention to the hand movement. It is a harbinger.
1:16 – Awww, look. Poor Livvy. She’s still stuck. Nobody wants to bump their ass up against her. But wait! There’s a reason she’s still stuck.
1:20 – All right! All it took was a double-cross in front of her, and Livvy is in on the action. You’re excused for not being able to tell the two-dimension Livvy from the three-dimensional. Or the two-dimensional from the one-dimentional. However that works out.

1:24 – Remember the harbinger, the foreboder? She taught Livvy the Batdance hand move.  I can always excuse 1980s hair. That’s just the way it looked sometimes, and it was bound to end up in a movie. But this Batdance hand move? When was that ever popular?
1:26 – What the hell? Why do we have a closeup of arms and hands? This looks like a bad insert shot, and it may be.
1:31 – Livvy repeats the Batdance move. There is a reason for this. We will find out why.
1:34 – Well no wonder! Her legs are still stuck in the wall. The double cross failed to complete the transformation.
1:51 – Oh great, all the other ones are gone, and here comes Livvy’s spotlight move. It’s the “c’mon back!” And there’s all the sisters again. Where the hell were they? This scene is not helping me with its floating geography.
2:00 – Oh, skirts and spinning and shots of upper torsos. High-speed film, so it’s all still in focus. The background is doing them no favors.
2:13 – So what, now it’s Livvy’s turn to … watch? At least she can do this. Do you remember any memorable Livvy dance moves in “Grease”? Except for the whole cigarette thing, and she needed to be coached on doing that. Her contribution to the dancing in the film is being a spot for John Travolta to put his hands.
2:20 – Midriffs! I guess we’re being asked to identify the muses by body type underneath flowing dresses.
2:25 – As even the Greeks knew, you hide the bad dancer center back, and have somebody in front of them doing something amazing.
2:29 – Dammit, Livvy, are you lost? You had one job …
2:38 – Hey, I think I saw feet. I believe we can conclude Zeus’ daughters have all taken human form.
2:47 – Have you ever watched the pan-and-scan version of “Oklahoma!”? The director did a great job filling up the entire screen with people dancing some of that crazy mix of ballet and modern. Then, instead of forcing people to watch the dance numbers letterboxed (which is the only way to fully appreciate the choreography), we get a camera moving side to side so we get a glimpse of the dancers on the edges. It’s a mess. I think this part was choreographed by somebody who only knows the pan-and-scan version of “Oklahoma!”
2:54 – OK. They’ve straightened themselves out with high fives. Very current.
3:00 – Everything Olivia Newton-John is doing at this point makes her look like the 5-year-old mascot the high school cheerleaders have. And she’s so happy! Look at all the cool dancers around her. And she’s not stepping on anyone else’s feet.
3:09 – A very effective use of a street set. Couldn’t afford any extras. Or light, apparently.
3:14 – More special effects! In fresh colors!
3:18 – So this one runs by the Hollywood sign and lights it up, and no one notices. So she goes and smacks into another one on the beach, and their fresh colors fly skyward.
3:26 – The next time I have to go up a spiral staircase, I want to do it this way. Climbing and pirouettes. A brilliant combination.
3:33 – OK, they’re going (back?) into the sky. You can tell, because, light beams.
3:35 – Oops. One is coming back, or has been rejected, or has been sent back to get dance lessons from Gene Kelly. (Oh yeah, Gene Kelly is in this movie. He was 68. It was his last movie. So, legacy and stuff.)
3:39 – See the stunt double roller skate wearing Olivia Newton-John’s hair.
3:44 – She looks somewhat convincing while pretending to skate. Good for her.

I wish YouTube had the setup for “Don’t Walk Away” posted somewhere, because my praise for it would balance how nasty I’ve been here. Livvy and “Warriors” dude are in a recording studio, and she’s pleading for entertainment. He points to the control board and complains he doesn’t know which button to push. She says, “Push them all” in the single funniest moment of the film.

But the opening dance is pretty amusing.


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