I've rarely missed a screening of the film West Side Story in my area, and it always feels fresh and new to me, as if I'm viewing it for the very first time, because I always notice at least one or two things in subsequent viewings of this film that I failed to notice in the last viewing. Since it has not played in our area for at least a year, I'm eagerly awaiting and hoping for some more screenings of the film West Side Story to come back to this neck of the woods.
Now for the crux of my essay:
Both the original Broadway stage production and the film version of West Side Story were created during much more hopeful and optimistic times, when so much more seemed possible, despite much higher crime rates and racial/ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic tensions and hostilities here in the United States overall.
West Side Story, as I've pointed out, sends a message that's really a double-edged sword, but it's a very good message, nonetheless. West Side Story proves that the consequences of racial/ethnic/cultural hatred, gang violence, and general arrogance and hubris, and being constantly puffed-up with pride can be, and often are, quite deleterious, not only to the victim(s), but to the perpetrator(s) alike. While uncontrolled violence and the consequences to the victims and their friends/loved ones are harmful, it's also true that the perpetrator(s) of violence often end up on the receiving end of violence, as well. It also shows that gangsterism, as often as it exists in real life, even today, isn't the way to go, either. Sure, people often join gangs, because it gives them a sense of belonging, and a sort of an extended family, but there's no substitute for real families, friends and communities filled with love and unity.
Yet, there's also a more hopeful message from West Side Story, as well. Intergroup reconciliation and unity, as difficult and almost impossible as it often is, can still be possible. I know that in real life, street gangs don't go dancing through the city streets on their way to rumbles, and that people don't ordinarily fall in love at very first sight. If, however, in real life, people do fall in love at first sight, a lasting love based on mutual trust, commitment and devotion, takes time to grow and develop into something that's really substantial.
West Side Story, I think, is still very popular because, even today, it's still quite relevant. People throughout the United States and throughout the world, generally, still fight with each other, and wars still happen. Racism/racial & ethnic tensions and urban gang warfare still abound (although today, it's generally with guns, rather than fisticuffs and/or switchblade knives.), people still cross the racial/ethnic/color/religion divides to date, fall in love, and even marry and raise families. (By the way, my brother is married to a beautiful, very dark-skinned, dark haired and dark-eyed woman from India, and they have two beautiful young children, a son and a daughter. My sister has two very handsome sons (both grown-up.) who are half Chinese (Mainland Chinese), and half European-American.)
West Side Story, despite being almost 55 years old, still tugs at my heartstrings after all these years. When I first saw the film version of WSS, at around Christmastime of 1968, as a Senior in high school, I was still a teenager in high school, so I was able to identify with the Jets, the Sharks and their girls as kids being kids, and so on, but when I got a little older, I began to develop a deeper appreciation for West Side Story, not only due to the story behind it, but because I love it as a strong work of art, and a larger-than-life piece of theatre on the movie screen. I fell in love with the film West Side Story at the start, have loved it ever since, and I still go to see it every time it comes around, much to the amusement and resignation of my family and my friends.
It's a wonderful film, and, if this great, golden oldie-but-keeper of a Classic ever comes to a great big, wide screen, in a real movie theatre in your area, I say jump at the chance to go and see it. You won't be disappointed.