by Molly Jo Realy @MollyJoRealy
Nine Things XANADU Taught Me About Creative Endurance
(or, A Writer’s Review of a 38-Year-Old Movie a Lot of People Don’t Care About Anymore But Should)
I really don’t know how the topic started. At a marketing conference recently, my new friend Jenn from Mixtus Media mentioned Xanadu. “Do you remember that movie?”
“Remember it?” I gasped. And then explained how just the day before I was rocking out in the elevator to the song “Whenever You’re Away From Me”. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s a #truestory. [And here’s where I’m betting Beckie’s a little glad she wasn’t on this trip with me. That’s okay, Beckie. You know I still love you!]
Fast-forward to after the conference and some well-discussed Facebook posts and YouTube videos, and now the movie is in my Prime rental library for another two hours.
I’ve already watched it three times.
Yes, I have sung each song out loud, each time.
Because I still know the soundtrack to XANADU by heart.
XANADU got me thinking about my creativity. I know, that’s a really weird thing to write. Because y’all know I’m inspired by sweet tea and Hemingway and O’Connor and peacocks and Van Morrison and frogs and zebras. None of which are in this 1980 roller skating fantasy world (unless you count the disco outfits. But I’d really rather not.).
Anyway . . . Besides reclaiming my youth and the let-it-loose elevator vocals, here are nine things XANADU taught me about being creative. I invite you to join the discussion.
- Taking care of business does not mean you’re a creative failure. The movie opens with Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) returning to his job as a studio painter: he enlarges album covers for display in store fronts. He had walked away from this job to pursue his dream of becoming a “real” artist, but it didn’t work out. Once the pressure was on, the creativity was off. But Sonny was always a “real” artist. It was doing it full-time that shook his boots. So he went back to what he knew. Not as a failure (although for a time he thought so). His day job was a safe place where he could continue to hone his skills and bounce creative ideas off his team. (Note: I don’t recommend talking smack to your boss unless you have that sort of banter relationship. Definitely don’t encourage him to fire you unless you’re ready to walk.)
- Support comes from many sources. There’s a phrase in the industry: Street Team. These are the people, personal and professional, who believe in you and want to help you succeed. They read your books, leave reviews, attend author events, give encouragement. Think of it as a positive posse. (I call y’all my Swarm, and you can join on Facebook by clicking here: NOLA Swarm.) In XANADU, Sonny’s Swarm starts when he meets Danny McGuire, the clarinet-playing old-timer (Gene Kelly), and then Kira (Olivia Newton-John), one of Zues’s nine daughters, or muses. Each contributes something different to Sonny’s life, but both believe in him even when he doesn’t believe in himself. They swarm to his side, along with his other friends and former coworkers.
- Practice makes perfect. Sonny’s dream is to be a renowned artist. So whatever he’s doing, he practices. At work, he gets into trouble by spending too much attention to detail. He takes odd jobs where he can get them. He’s painted walls, vans, canvases. He never stops painting. So even if it’s not how he wants to do it, at least he is doing what he wants. And he keeps at it. He keeps getting better. And, even though he wants us to think he’s given up, he never really does.
- Changing directions is not the same as stopping. His budding friendship with Danny and encouragement from Kira influence Sonny to co-own a night-club/disco/roller-skate hall with Danny. Through a lot of hard work, they find the perfect place: an abandoned building Kira likes to find her solace in. Sonny gets to transition his creativity to design the aesthetics of the club. But he doesn’t let it get in the way of his passion for painting.
- Don’t discount what you don’t understand. Kira took human form when she and her eight muse-sisters released themselves from a city mural. She knew her mission, and she filled it with great joy: She skated (yes, skated. Hey, the movie was made in 1980, okay?) up to Sonny, gently kissed him, and vanished. Later in the movie, she admits to Sonny she’s not had human feelings before, and this love-thing is messy and painful. Sonny doesn’t believe her, of course. And when she returns to Zeus, it takes a pep talk from Danny for Sonny to go in search of her. He knows he needs her, even if he doesn’t understand where she came from. He finds a way to find her.
- Don’t limit yourself to what others say. Sonny’s boss told him to stop being creative. Just do what was expected of him. But Sonny couldn’t do that. He couldn’t color inside the lines all day, every day. Kira awakened that creativity in him again, and he again found the passion to create more than album covers. When Kira left, it would be impossible by earthly standards for him to reach her. But he stopped listening to the laws of nature, and listened instead to his inner self. He always knew he could succeed. And now that he was aware again, he also knew he needed Kira. And he did whatever it took to find her.
- Go to the source. But the rules of the gods held Kira with Zeus, and he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, let her go back to earth. I mean, sure, it’s pretty impressive that Sonny didn’t smash into bits when he skated full-force toward the mural of Kira and her sisters. But love doesn’t conquer everything. Sonny plead his case, but had to leave without Kira. Everyone’s hearts were breaking. The point is, Sonny didn’t stop until there was nowhere else to go.
- Not seeing is still believing. Sonny was without Kira. He was without his muse, his love. He could still be a creative. He just didn’t want to. What Sonny didn’t know, was that Zeus and his wife, Hera, were having a conversation of their own. They saw the good in Sonny, and how Kira made him better. They saw how being without Sonny made Kira sad. She was no longer capable of being an inspiring muse. And, remembering from long ago (or was it just a few minutes?), what true love is, they gave Kira back to Sonny. Only he just didn’t know it yet.
- Change with the times. Okay, can we break for a minute and just talk about the fashion in this movie? And the weird, NuWave neon-clad characters? How did anyone think Gene Kelly in a bright Zoot Suit was an awesome idea, if even for just a moment? My point is, peeps, the visuals would not be the same if the movie was made today. But the message is. Sonny’s dream was to be a painter. Throughout the movie, he achieved that, in different stages. Danny’s dream was to feel needed. He thought he’d missed out on love. But being needed and being loved isn’t only romantic. And Kira? She just wanted to inspire people. In the end, she did so much more than that. And she did it so well, she was given the freedom to stay.
What do you think?
I’d love to hear from you: Leave a comment below and tell me what movies still inspire your creativity.
With a wild soundtrack and some serious no-one-is-looking dance moves,
Frankly, My Dear . . . Savor the Journey!
Molly Jo is a Southern Belle and known to her friends as the Bohemian Hurricane. She is the author/curator of The Unemployment Cookbook and several eBooks available on Amazon. Her work-in-progress, NOLA, is a full-length location mystery novel set in New Orleans, and the first in her City Series.