July 28th, 2013

  • mapol

West Side Story: A great movie/musical Classic that has everything:

While there are other movies that express various emotions at different times, West Side Story has an intensity about it that makes it very special, both on screen and on stage. West Side Story is about love, romance and beauty, which, unfortunately, can be, and, in this case is, destroyed by the animosity of the Jets and Sharks towards each other. The romance between Tony and Maria produces hope, in that it proves that people of different backgrounds can and do fall in love (which often happens in real life.), date and even marry, despite difficulties.

There is also much black comedy in West Side Story as well, especially in the stage version; the Officer Krupke scene, in which the Jets lampoon Ofcr Krupke as soon as he departs after he and Lt. Schrank visiting the Jets and warning them not to cause any trouble. As for the song "America", that, too has a streak of black comedy in it, for it's both funny and black at the same time, if one gets the drift. It's got sarcasm in it, and yet one has to wonder if "America" is just a playful but sarcastic argument that the Sharks and their girls get into about the so-called virtues of the United States of America, after the hard times they're facing as immigrants, or if it's a genuine liking of America by the Shark girls despite the difficulties that they face as immigrants, if one gets the drift.

Cool has a sort of a black comedy to it, in a way, at least in the stage version of West Side Story, because it comes prior to the rumble, as opposed to after the rumble, as it does in the film version of WSS. In the film version, the "Cool" scene takes on a much darker, more serious meaning, due to the fact that the Jets and their girls are now in hiding from the cops, and there's much more tension there.

The War Council, which follows "America", which in turn, follows "Dance at the Gym", is also marked with a great deal of tension, and evokes much interest as well.

The pre-rumble Quintet/Ensemble is also quite tense, because it, too, predicts what will come, and the rumble itself is quite intense. I find myself wanting everybody in the film to survive, to have the rumble, and, maybe, hopefully, that will be the catalyst for unity and redemption among people, if one gets the drift. It, too, is a particularly tense section of West Side Story.

There are, of course, a number of scenes/songs in West Side Story that make me smile, and/or even laugh out loud; The American scene, despite sarcasm, the part where Riff says "Because your ma's hot for me." when Tony asks him why he doesn't "pack up his gear and move out", and the part where Anita says to Chino "We won't bite you...til we know you better.", when Chino says "But this is a shop for ladies."

"Dance at the Gym", despite being a pre-cursor of what's to come later that night, also makes me smile, as do the America, the Jet Song/Prologue, Officer Krupke, and the Cool scenes. The "One Hand, One Heart" scene is also quite exuberant, as Tony and Maria are staging a mock wedding in the Bridal Shop where Maria and Anita both work, to pledge their love.

So, all told, as I pointed out, West Side Story has everything; Some parts are dark and intense, and keep one on the edge of his/her seat, other parts are funny, causing people to smile and even laugh out loud, while other parts are quite sad and make many people cry, or at least tear up, such as the deaths of Riff, Bernardo and Tony during the rumble.

West Side Story is a movie that goes from light to dark (figuratively, as well as literally), and begins to become light again towards the end, when there's a hint of possible reconciliation between the Jets and Sharks as several members of each gang come together to carry off Tony's body after he's shot to death after the rumble. It's also a matter of chasing rainbows, even though a damper has been put down due to everything that has gone wrong. West Side Story provides a message of hope and reconciliation, despite being about a love and romance that takes root, only to be destroyed by conflict. All told, West Side Story is a beautiful film. I wish they'd show it even more often in the movie theatres.
  • mapol

West Side Story--A Special 40th-year Anniversary Screening in October 2001--I Still Have memories:

Hi again, everybody!

Can you stand yet another longish essay about my memories of seeing West Side Story on a great big, wide movie screen, in a real movie theatre, with the lights down low and sharing the experience with tons of other people, whether one knows them or not, especially since I still have memories of this special screening that I'm getting ready to write about? Well...whatever! Here goes:

It was mid-summer of 2001, roughly a month before the fateful 9/11 attacks on the WTC Towers and the Pentagon--early August, to be exact. I'd just arrived home from an eye-dilation exam, had received something about the upcoming 40th-year Anniversary West Side Story (film) event, and, since the pupils of my eyes were still dilated from the exam, I couldn't read the ad very well. Some old friends of mine, who'd formerly lived in Boston, but moved down to NYC a number of years before and knew that West Side Story was/is my all time favorite movie, called me up to tell me about the upcoming special 40th-year Anniversary screening of the film West Side Story, at NYC's renowned Radio City Music Hall, on Saturday night, October 6th, and to ask me if I wanted them to get some tickets. I immediately jumped at the chance, and instinctively said yes to their getting the tickets. I was all excited about not only seeing my all time favorite movie on a great big, wide movie screen at Radio City Music Hall, but seeing old friends and relatives, to boot. After a little bit of a snafu, the tickets were obtained, and everything worked out, beautifully.

The year 2001 had been a particularly strange and sad year for me and my family, generally. My dad had passed away from a long illness (He'd been sick for a year and a half, to be exact.), and the special event, a temporary change of scenery, and seeing old friends and relatives in addition to a great classic film gave me a badly-needed lift.

Saturday, October 6th, was the big day! I'd left my pet Noble Macaw, McGee (who's no longer on this earth, but in Bird Heaven as of 3 years ago last February!), under the care of some very nice neighbors, and drove down to the Big Apple for the special event and to see friends and relatives. Leaving Boston shortly before seven that morning, I headed down for NYC, and saw my cousin and her husband (who'd graciously let me stay in their Upper West Side condominium for that evening after the movie while they went upstate that weekend.). We hung around for afew hours after I arrived, walking around in Ft. Tryon Park, which is a cool park, near the funky melting-pot neighborhood where my cousin and her husband reside. Then they went upstate that afternoon. Later, I took a taxi down to where my friends were, met them at their Riverside Drive apartment building, and we took a bus to Radio City Music Hall. We were all given minimal searches, but it was no big sweat.

After some rather long-winded introductory speeches by members of the West Side Story cast, as well as Robert Wise, the director of West Side Story and some other important people, the movie started. Shown on a great big, wide movie screen in a real movie theatre with the lights down low, West Side Story seems to take on a magical, almost 3-dimensional quality to it. The brilliant Bernstein musical score seems more intense, the scenery seems more expansive, and one can see all of everything. The richly-colored costumes and photography and cinematography seem even more brilliant. From the warring Jets and Sharks to the romancing Tony and Maria, the various characters in West Side Story seem to move much more freely and fluidly, and in a much wider, more open space. Even Richard Beymer's Tony (who I've always thought of as somewhat weak and lacklustre as Tony) comes off as being much more vital and alive when West Side Story is shown on a great big wide movie screen. The various scenes/songs of WSS also take on a new intensity and brilliance when West Side Story is shown on a great big wide screen. The beautifully-choreographed dancing by (the late) Jerome Robbins also seems much more alive, intense, beautiful and brilliant.

Due to my intense love for West Side Story, I admit that I have a tough time selecting favorite scenes/songs/characters, but I will add that certain songs such as "America", "Dance at the Gym", "Cool", the "Prologue/Jet Song", the pre-Rumble Quintet and even the Rumble itself, as well as the "Officer Krupke" scene, are all pillar songs that contribute great to what West Side Story really is.

Despite Richard Beymer's weakness as Tony (which was partly due to directorial constraints put on Beymer from Robert Wise, much to Richard Beymer's disappointment. He would've liked to have played a Tony with a little more of an "edge" to him, but Robert Wise was into making Tony into a reformed gang leader (He was the founder/leader of the Jets), so he wanted Tony to be softer and more tender, if one gets the drift.) Beymer was offset by a really great and strong cast. Tucker Smith was fantastic as the handsome, calm, cool and collected Ice, while Elliot Feld played the youngest and most immature of the Jets (Baby-John) was equally fantastic. So was David Winters as Baby-John's buddy, A-Rab, who was kind of weasly, in his own way. Russ Tamblyn was also excellent as the exuberant (if somewhat arrogant and cocky), acrobatic, and intelligent Riff, as was George Chakaris as Bernardo, the leader of the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Shark gang leader. Rita Moreno was equally fantastic as Bernardo's firebrand of a girlfriend, Anita. Natalie Wood did okay as Maria, and Simon Oakland was also great as the bigoted, bitter Lt. Schrank, who clearly didn't like the Jets, much less the Sharks. Tony Mordente was fantastic as Action, the most fiery-tempered, aggressive member of the Jets, and Susan Oakes, who played the tomboy and Jets wannabe, Anybodys, was also quite impressive. All of the above having been said, all of the characters were good, including the bubbly-spirited Shark and Jets girls.

John Astin was fantastic as "Glad Hand", the Social worker, who'd organized the Dance at the Gym, and Ned Glass was also great as the philosophical, kindly "Doc", who owned the Candy Store, and tried, basically to no avail, to help turn both gangs away from war and to peace. Jose De Vegas was also fabulous as Chino, who was also a Shark gang member, and Bernardo's right-hand man. All of the cast from both sides in West Side Story were excellent.

New York City's renowned Radio City Music Hall was packed with an exuberant, friendly crowd, and there was much finger-snapping and applause from the audience. It was wonderful that less than a month after the fateful 9/11 attacks on United States soil, that five or six thousand people could get together for such a wonderfully spectacular and fabulous evening.

Although my friends who'd arranged for us to see West Side Story down at NYC's Radio City Music Hall passed away afew years ago, I still have fond memories, not only of a special event, but of these remarkable friends who I'd had close connections with for a number of years prior to this special event. Again, it had been a sweet weekend, and I drove home, relishing the greatness of it all, as well as the much-needed lift that it had given me, after a hard, strange and sad year.

Another thing that I will add is that whenever I see the film West Side Story, it always feels as if I'm seeing it for the very first time. Moreover, I always notice certain things about this movie that I failed to notice during the last viewing of it. Nobody, including me knows why that is, but the feelings are there. The fact that I drove down to the Big Apple again, five years later, at the same time, only to take in the film West Side Story with my cousin, a first-grade teacher who lives in Manhattan and teaches in the Bronx, is also indicative of how West Side Story has a powerful hold on people's imaginations, including mine. We took in the screening this time at NYC's Clearview Ziegfeld Movie theatre, which had a long, narrow screen, as opposed to the somewhat shorter, taller screen at Radio City Music Hall. My cousin and I both enjoyed West Side Story immensely, and, although it wasn't sold out that night, it was well-attended.

I've seen a number of WSS screenings since, I never get tired of seeing this great, golden oldie but keeper of a classic film, and I look forward to seeing West Side Story again, this time, at Boston's Symphony Hall, in mid-February.