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West Side Story (1961 Film) in 70mm:

Just last month, the Somerville Theatre, in Somerville, MA (which is just north of Boston), showed the film West Side Story as part of a 10-day 70mm film Festival.  Although there were some other good 70mm classic films that were showing (i. e. Lawrence of Arabia, Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty, The Ten Commandments and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, to name afew),  it was the film West Side Story that I'd been really looking forward to seeing. ... 

I decided to invite some other people to come and see West Side Story with me, so I invited my sister (who was visiting from the Mid-West), a longtime friend of mine, and I also snagged a ticket for a longtime friend of my sister's, who also wanted to see West Side Story.  I snagged tickets for myself, my friend, my sister and her friend, online, for the September 22nd show, at 8:00 that night.  

On Saturday night, September 17th, I was casually cruising on the Somerville Theatre's website, on the 70mm film festival program.  I then noticed the following message:  

Due to a shipping snafu, "West Side Story" will be shown instead of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" on Saturday night, Sept. 17th, at 8:00 p. m.  Tickets for this show will be  honored at this showing of West Side Story."

Since it was just 8:00 p. m. when I noticed this message, I quickly said good-bye to Aziza,  my pet Congo African Grey Parrot, turned on the TV for her, ran down to my car, and drove to the Somerville Theatre, and parked where I could find a parking space.  I steamed down to the movie theatre as fast as I could, snagged myself a ticket for the film West Side Story at the box office, and took a seat inside the big main theatre, only missing the first five minutes of the film.   Seeing West Side Story on a Saturday night, for some reason, seemed to make it even more special for me, particularly since West Side Story rarely shows on a Saturday night, at least not in our general area.  I got to see West Side Story twice during the 70mm Film Festival, since they'd added the Saturday night show to the one that was coming up on Thursday, Sept. 22nd.

While I went solo to the Saturday night showing of West Side Story, I went with my sister, my longtime friend, and my sister's friend (all of whom had attended the same high school together and graduated at the end of the same year--1971, to be exact.)   My friend and I met at a crepes place nearby for a bite to eat before the movie, and then met my sister and her friend in the theatre.  We all sat in good seats, and had a wonderful time.  Although neither showing of West Side Story sold out, there were good crowds, so it came pretty close to selling out, especially on the floor of the main theatre.

Not withstanding that West Side Story seemed even more special on a Saturday night, the 70mm film version of WSS was even more intense.  The various characters and sceneries of the film looked even more three-dimensional, and the various expressions on the characters, especially the warring Jets and Sharks, seemed even more noticeably angrier and tougher.  The scenery, both the scenes filmed on location and the sets that had been masterfully designed by  the late Boris Leven, looked uncannily like rough-and-rundown parts of a large American city.  
The soundtrack to the 70mm film version of West Side Story was considerably more punchy-sounding and in one's face, the way it is really supposed to be.  The Leonard Bernstein musical score, the beautifully-choreographed dancing by the late Jerome Robbins, the richly-colored costumes, the cast as a whole,  and the photography and fantastic cinematography and colors also helped to tell an intensely but hauntingly beautiful story in a really distinguished way.  

Seeing this already intense and beautiful film in 70mm made it even easier than it already was/is to really get into the film West Side Story, as a whole.  The various emotions, ranging from exuberance, arrogance and cockiness to humor, from love and romance to violence and death were even easier to get into, as well, especially since these varying emotions in West Side Story were indicated so intensely by dance.  I was even more able to smile at the exuberant scenes (i. e. Dance at the Gym, the Prologue, the Cool, and the America scenes), laugh out loud at the funny scenes/parts (Officer Krupke scene, the scene when Riff cries out "uncle, Uncle, UNCLE!" when Tony twists Riff's arm and the part where Anita says to Chino  "We won't bite you...til we know you better, when Chino say's  "But this is a shop for ladies" when Maria invites him to come in when he and Bernardo come to call for them to attend the dance that night), was totally at the edge of my seat durin
g the really tense  scenes and parts (i. e. the Pre-Rumble Ensemble, the Prologue/Jets Song, the pre-Rumble War Council between the Jets and the Sharks, and the dispute afterwards, where the racial/ethnic epithets fly back and forth between the Jets and Sharks,  the Rumble itself, and when Anita is roughed up and insulted by the Jets when she goes to the drug store to send a message to Tony (who's hiding out in the cellar of Doc's Candy Store), causing her to retaliate by telling them a lie;  That Chino found out about Maria and Tony, and shot her dead.), and began to tear up at the sadder parts (i. e. the "I have a love" part, especially when Anita is grieving for Bernardo, when Jets gang member Baby-John is reduced to tears by the killings, (i. e. Riff and Bernardo), and when Tony was shot and killed by Chino.).  Yet, when several Jets and Sharks moved in to carry Tony's body off after he'd been shot, and Maria kissed him farewell, there seemed to be a ray of hope-a hint of possible reconciliation between the Jets and Sharks.

Due to my intense love for West Side Story as a film, I'm admittedly hard-pressed to pick out any favorite scenes/songs and characters, but there are certain scenes/songs and characters that were real pillars of West Side Story that really helped make this great, golden oldie-but-keeper of a movie-musical Classic the dynamic little package that it really is:

Russ Tamblyn was excellent as the arrogant, cocky and exuberant but tough-minded Riff, the Jet gang leader who'd taken over since his old friend and ex-Jet member Tony (who was also the founder of the Jets) had stepped aside.  So was Tony Mordente, as the incorrigible instigator-troublemaker, Action, who certainly lived up to his name.  Tucker Smith, who played the calm, cool and collected Ice, who took over the Jet gang leadership after Riff's death at the Rumble, also did a great job at playing Ice and had both the looks and personality for that particular role, to boot.  

Susan Oakes, who played the part of the tomboy and Jets wannabe, Anybodys, was also fantastic, as was Rita Moreno as the firebrand, Anita and girlfriend of the fiery but sardonic Shark gang leader, Bernardo, who was played fantastically by George Chakiris.  Eliot Feld was excellent as the youngest and most immature Jet gang member, Baby-John, and so was David Winters, as his buddy, A-Rab.

Simon Oakland was fantastic as the bigoted, bitter and cynical Lt. Schrank, who clearly hated the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Sharks (who he roughly banished from Doc's Candy Store), and also hated the White European Ethnic American Jets just a tad or two less (which was obvious by Lt. Schrank's insults to the Jets' ethnic and familial backgrounds after they refused to disclose to him where the Rumble was to take place, when he visited them after their pre-Rumble War Council, and even after Lt. Schrank had said to the Jets  "Look, fellas!  I'm for you!  I want this beat cleaned up, and you can do it for me!  I'll even lend a hand if it gets rough!"), when the Jets still refused to tell Lt. Schrank the whereabouts of their upcoming Rumble with the Sharks.). So, Schrank angrily slams out of the Candy Store saying  "I'll find out where it's (meaning the Rumble) gonna be!  But be sure to finish each other off before I get there!  Because if ya don't, I will!"  

Bill Bramley was also excellent as the equally cynical but quieter Officer Krupke, who the Jets lampoon after he stops by Doc's Candy store and warns them not to cause trouble, and then leaves.  Ned Glass plays the part of Doc beautifully. So does Penny Santon as the Bridal Shop owner, as does John Astin as  "Glad Hand", the Social Worker at the Dance.

Natalie Wood was okay as Maria, but Richard Beymer, due to constraints put on him by director Robert Wise, and to the fact that Natalie Wood was overtly hostile and resentful to Richard Beymer during the filming (She actually tried to get Beymer kicked off the set on several occasions.), and to the way that the scripts for both the original Broadway stage production and the film versions of West Side Story had been written, Richard Beymer (who'd really wanted to play the role of Tony with a little more of an "edge") was a weaker link in the film West Side Story.  Richard Beymer was said to be so upset about it that he actually skipped the Premiere showing of the film West Side Story, when it first came out.   

later on, however, when Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood met by chance in a California diner, Beymer approached Natalie Wood and was attracted to her.  Subsequently, they made up, afterwards.  

Because both the crew and the cast members of West Side Story alike were regularly harassed by street toughs, who showered rocks, bottles, etc., down from tenement rooftops during the filming of the movie, they ended up hiring out an actual street gang for security while the filming was taking place.  Oh, the irony of this, since West Side Story is about two warring street gangs on New York City's West Side!

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wss crazy cool by dallowayward
westsidestory
West Side Story

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