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I've Been Reading

Robert Wise on his films : from editing room to director's chair by Sergio Leemann and there's a chapter on each film, including West Side Story. Let me quote an excerpt : ...

title or description
Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise filming in New York, August 1960
Photo from Life Magazine

Putting a stage musical on the screen represents challenges. When you're in the live theater, you have the proscenium arch up there, you're once-removed from reality. The screen is a very real medium and doesn't take kindly to stylization. One of the things we struggled with the most in West Side Story was how to take all the highly stylized aspects of it and deal with them effectively in the reality of the screen. On the stage, you can have characters break out of a dialogue scene, and go right into song and dance and you don't feel a twinge of embarrassment, but you can feel that on screen. On the stage, the turf that the kids fight over were stylized sets. There was no way I could realistically open the film without opening it in the real New York streets...I had a hard sell with the Mirisch Company, but we were allowed to do it in the New York locations. Jerry said to me, "I agree with you completely about the need to open it in New York, but you gave me the biggest challenge to take my most stylized dancing and put it against the most real background that we have in the whole picture".

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
sar_bear4ben
Jun. 26th, 2009 12:31 am (UTC)
Thanks for this interesting excerpt.

Don't worry Jerry you did it magnificently :D
petzipellepingo
Jun. 28th, 2009 11:42 am (UTC)
Here's another great excerpt : When doing an adaptation, a lot of writers throw away as much of the original as they can to make the screenplay more their own. Ernie Lehman is not that way; he respects the original, incorporates all of its good values, and only tries to improve the weak areas...One of the first things he said to us on West Side Story was, "The Officer Krupke number and the Cool number are in the wrong places." In the original show, the Cool number was in the first act, before they have the council to set up the rumble. As they got a little nervous, they had the Cool number at the candy store to help settle down. The Krupke number, a comedy number, was done in the second art, after all the tragedy. This was all wrong. We simpy switched them. Ernie did some rewriting to put the comedy number in the first act, before all the heavy drama started coming in, and then used Cool in a different and much better setting in the second act, to help pull the gang together when they're starting to fall apart. It's so much better dramatically.

And in the chapter on The Sound of Music : The Sound of Music tends to engulf some of the other equally good work I did. It doesn't overpower West Side Story so much, but I get many more comments about The Sound of Music then I do about West Side Story. The subject matter and the nature of The Sound of Music were more universally popular .
sar_bear4ben
Jun. 28th, 2009 11:45 am (UTC)
Im really glad they changed those numbers too. Sondheim said in West Side Memories that he also pushed for those two to be switched.

I love both Sound of Music and West Side Story...but I don't know. WSS just has that extra something
petzipellepingo
Jun. 28th, 2009 12:09 pm (UTC)
WSS just has that extra something


Better music, better dance numbers, more relevant plot...
sar_bear4ben
Jun. 28th, 2009 12:27 pm (UTC)
oh yeah...that's it
mapol
Mar. 16th, 2014 04:23 pm (UTC)
Absolutely spot-on, petzi and sar bear4ben!
West Side Story is much more powerful, which is that extra "something", imho.

I wonder if that's why it's not as universally popular as "Sound of Music".
petzipellepingo
Mar. 16th, 2014 06:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Absolutely spot-on, petzi and sar bear4ben!
There's no happy ending and for some people that means it will never be popular. At least IMO.
mapol
Mar. 16th, 2014 10:45 pm (UTC)
That's right, petzi.
Some people can't stand stories/musicals, movies, etc., without happy endings. Many people like to feel that they've got something to hold onto that'll make them feel more optomistic. But, then again, as we've observed, West Side Story has its big fans, as well!
mapol
Mar. 16th, 2014 04:21 pm (UTC)
Hi, petzi!
I, too like the fact that the "Cool" and the "Officer Krupke" scenes in West Side Story were changed around for the movie, because it made for a more dramatic, better anticlimax, if one gets the drift.

Having seen the Sound of Music afew times, including when it first came out, in the mid-1960's, I've enjoyed it, but I have ambivalent feelings about the very story behind it.
mapol
Mar. 16th, 2014 04:16 pm (UTC)
One of the things that puts West Side Story in a class all by itself is
the fact that West Side Story, imho, was equally successful on both stage AND screen. Jerry Robbins and Robert Wise did a fabulous job with this great film. The film is magnificent in every way, and it earned every Academy Award that it won during the year that it came out! Those who said that there would never be another movie like West Side Story again were right on their money...there never was, and never will be, no matter what.
mapol
Mar. 16th, 2014 04:24 pm (UTC)
I love that picture of Robert Wise up in the elevated chair!
It's really something--it's so cool!!
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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