April 11th, 2012

petzi great lakes by dhamphir

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Pow! Violence and West Side Story

by Paul Bullock

One of the things I love about films is how multi-layered they are. Great films – the truly great ones – have hidden depths to them; they can seem like frothy entertainment on first viewing and significant critical theses on second viewing. This happened to me this week with West Side Story. I first watched the film when I was a teenager and was, as practically everyone who watches it is, bowled over by the eloquence of the storytelling, the catchiness of the music and the breathtaking brilliance of the dancing. It seemed a fantastic musical, a wonderful love story and a cracking visual feast. But nothing more.

How wrong I was. Having watched Gypsy recently, I was keen to launch into another Natalie Wood film and WSS was the one I had to hand. As with Gypsy, I fell in love with Wood and her nuanced, heartbreaking performance, but what stood out to me even more was the substance behind the film. Yes, West Side Story is all the things I previously mentioned – indeed, on second viewing all those things stood out even more. But it’s also a searing social satire and a deeply philosophical film about the pointlessness of prejudice and the omnipresent spectre of violence.

Director Robert Wise and choreographer/co-direct Jerome Robbins realise these themes through three methods – colour, camera angles and music – and I’ll go over those in this blog.
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