When my brother died, he did so with only one regret. I know this, because he told me. “I only regret one thing,” he said. “I’m so sorry I introduced you to Xanadu. That one was all my fault, and you should probably just blame me for it, from now on.”
Now, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: my brother was laboring under a misapprehension. He clearly believed that my love of Xanadu was in some way a painful thing for me, perhaps in much the same way as coming to grips with his own homosexuality was for him. It represented a point of shame, a thing which was best dealt with by trapping it in a closet, lest the horrible secret be learned. But, by the time he died, I was as comfortable with my admiration for what was one of the splashiest flops of the early eighties as he was with his attraction for other men. It was a thing I had grown to own, despite the sidelong glances I would occasionally have to suffer once people learned the truth.
Granted, it wasn’t always so. There was a time when I tried desperately to convince people that Xanadu was, in some way, actually a good movie. The effort was, as anyone could presume, completely in vain: Xanadu was not a good movie, and it remains something of a clunker to this day. Yet, I have loved it since I first found it, not so much for what it was, but for what it represented to me the first time I saw it.
By the time I was born, cinemas had already begun to develop into multiplexes, although nowhere near as multi- as they currently are. In my hometown, theaters maxed out at six different screens, and this is what I was used to when it came to going to the movies. Except, we didn’t go to see Xanadu at any of the usual spots. Instead, we went to see it in an old theater which had been built in a very different era, the kind of place that could only be described as a Movie Palace. Realistically, the building must have been starting to unravel at the seams, but I couldn’t see any of that. Instead, I was dazzled by gilded statues lining the entryway and lobby, with frescoes and flocked wallpaper, a curved staircase with a polished balustrade, employees in uniforms, brass everywhere – and above it all, a chandelier suspended in a painted dome surrounded by swirling plaster ornaments. This was a building like none other I had ever seen, clearly an important place, where important things happened. I wasn’t about to see a movie like I might see at any other, normal theater I had ever attended. This was a special theater, for special movies.
And that, honestly, was all it took. At that age, I couldn’t really separate the grandeur of the building from the activities that went on within. My entire world had been conveniently divided into special and mundane. Church was a special building, where I should always be on my best behavior and pay very close attention. School was a mundane building, where, for some odd reason, the same rules applied. My friend’s houses were normal places, where I could run and screech. My grandmother’s house, however, was special and filled with very old things I could look at, but never touch.
I could say that it was simply my misfortune to have seen Xanadu in such an impressive venue, but, really, that simple accident changed my life. For better or worse, it was impressed on me that day that movies could be more than simply an afternoon in a dark room with popcorn. Movies could be special, heaped with pomp and circumstance. Movies could be important. Movies could be art.
And, frankly, there are far worse movies to have at the center of such a lesson. At its heart, Xanadu is a tribute to an earlier time, and a love song for a kind of movie that had long since gone out of fashion. Okay, fine: even as a tribute, it managed to miss the mark. Nevertheless, something started for me, that day: a lifelong love of the cinema and the artistic expressions shown there. Xanadu was a kind of crossroad, which put me on a completely different path.
And everyone who loves film has that movie. So, mine is Xanadu. My favorite professor in film school had a particular affinity for the Hammer horror movies he grew up with, but that didn’t mean we ever had The Satanic Rites of Dracula on our syllabus. That was simply his unique introduction to a special world which featured Christopher Lee at his hammiest, but could also include the likes of Fellini’s Satyricon, Renoir’s Rules of the Game, or Welles’s Citizen Kane, as well.
Though my brother might have regretted it, I never did. I wouldn’t have given up that day for the world. In fact, I couldn’t have given it up and remained the same person. And if I continue to relish the movie and all of the memories surrounding it, that is nothing to be ashamed of, and certainly nothing requiring an apology. When my brother told me of his regret, I just laughed and shook my head, and it gave us another opportunity to remember just how much we had impacted each other’s lives, a reminder of how strong our love had always been. That was something special, and, well, so was Xanadu. How could I not be grateful for that?
Besides, he could have waited until November and taken me to see The Apple, instead. That would have been a move I probably couldn’t explain away, even for the sake of filial harmony.