As I have pointed out on another thread (but it bears repeating here), I was first introduced to West Side Story through the music to the original Broadway stage version, back in the summer of 1962, prior to entering the sixth grade, while attending day camp out in Tucson, AZ. A girl in my group who'd recently acquired a copy of the LP album of the soundtrack to the original Broadway stage production of West Side Story for her birthday brought it to camp one morning and played it for the group. My love for the music and the very story behind West Side Story took off instantly, although, due to my relative social isolation, and to the fact that neither of my parents regarded the film West Side Story as a kids' movie (My sister and I were still pre-teens when the film version first came out.)
I first saw the film version of West Side Story at around Christmastime of 1968, as a high school Senior, during a national re-release of this movie, at a now-defunct cinema north of the town where my younger siblings and I grew up. I fell in love with the film version of West Side Story instantly. Little did I, my family, or even my friends know that my seeing this great classic film for the first time would begin a love affair with West Side Story that would last all the way into the present!
Since I was still a teenager in high school when I saw the movie West Side Story for the very first time, I identified with the Jets, the Sharks, and their girls, regarding kids being kids and so on, but when I got a little older and was out of high school and began seeing the film in (now mostly-defunct) independent repertory movie theatres in and around Boston, I began to also appreciate it more and more for the truly creative work of art that the film West Side Story really is, as well as its very story of love (especially across the racial/ethnic divide), romance, youthful exuberance, anti-immigrant attitudes, arrogance, cockiness, hatred, hubris, sardonic sarcasm, fiery tempers, urban gang warfare, racial/ethnic tensions, violence, death, and the arising of the hint of possible intergroup reconciliation. The fact that so many different emotions, ranging from light to dark, could be expressed so intensely through dance, as well as music that combined Latin, jazz and classical music into one intensely brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical score also helped make this film into the dynamic package that it really is. So did the richly-colored costumes, as well as the wonderful cinematography, which, back in those days, was created through various angles of the camera, as well as great colors. The fact that all this was created without the kind of expensive gadgetry, computerized sort of animation and constant exploding on the screen, as well as the overly graphic and explicitly sexual content and excessive "blue"language that're all too prevalent in many, if not most of today's movies, is also what makes West Side Story very special as a movie. Seeing all of these aspects of the film West Side Story on a great big, wide movie theatre screen really brings all of the above-mentioned aspects of this movie to the forefront, thus creating a real appreciation for West Side Story, overall.
From the multi-colored Overture to the aerial shots of the West Side of 1950's-1960's NYC (Manhattan), to the gradual zeroing in on the finger-snapping Jets on the playground, all the way to the graffiti-ed Credits at the end of the film West Side Story, all of these aspects of the scenery take on an even brighter, bigger and more intense quality when this movie-musical is viewed on a great big, wide movie theatre screen. Even the Jet gang whistle that this film opens up with seems more intense and exciting. Parts of WSS were also filmed on the streets of New York City's West Side, as well as streets in downtown Los Angeles, but many parts of West Side Story were also filmed on a gigantic sound stage, as well. The creatively designed sets by Boris Leven also looked uncannily like rough and run-down parts of a big city. All of the scenery, as well as the music and dancing to West Side Story, helps tell the story behind this movie-musical, and seems even more expansive on a great big, wide screen, since one can see all of everything.
From the warring Jets and Sharks to the romancing Tony and Maria, to the bitter, bigoted and cynical Lt. Schrank and the equally cynical (but quieter) Officer Krupke, to Doc, the Candy Store owner, who hoped to steer the Jets and Sharks in a better direction than they were presently headed, the various characters in West Side Story all seem to move much more fluidly and freely, in a much wider, more open space. Even Richard Beymer's Tony (who I've always considered somewhat lackluster) seems much more vital and alive when West Side Story is shown on a great big, wide movie theatre screen. The scenery seems much more expansive, one can see all of everything, and the already-brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical score seems even more intense...and brilliant, to boot. The dancing in all the dance scenes, from the Prologue/Jet Song scene to the Rumble itself, and to the "Cool" scene afterwards, also take on a new vitality and life, on a great, big wide screen. So do the many subtleties in this film, and the various facial expressions of the characters, especially of the warring Jets and Sharks, are also more noticeable.
Seeing the film West Side Story on a great big, wide movie screen, in a real movie theatre, with the lights down low always makes me notice certain aspects of this movie that I failed to notice in a previous viewing of WSS, and it always feels fresh and new to me, like I'm seeing it for the very first time. West Side Story is a very strong movie-musical, and one of its great strengths is the fact that, when West Side Story was transferred from stage to screen, it was preserved as a larger-than-lifesized piece of theatre. Seeing West Side Story on a great big, wide movie screen, especially from a theatre balcony, helps accentuate that aspect of this great classic, as well as the fact that it is such an unusual work of art. Having written all of the above, and after all is said and done, while watching West Side Story on TV or even an expensively elaborate home-theatre system is enjoyable, watching such a special classic at home does not enable one to really see the film West Side Story for the creative work of art that it really and truly is.
As someone on another board said: It's the size that really helps bring this film to life. Nothing beats seeing the movie-musical, West Side Story, on a great big, wide movie theatre screen, with the lights down low, and sharing the experience with a bunch of other people, whether one knows them or not.
Here are some afterthoughts, however, that I wish to mention about Richard Beymer: Not withstanding the fact that the Beymer-bashing in some circles has definitely gotten out of control, I have (fairly) recently learned some things that have made me more willing to give Richard Beymer the benefit of the doubt:
A) Richard Beymer has mentioned that he would've liked to play the role of Tony with a little more of an "edge" to him, but, due to directorial constraints put on him by Robert Wise, and because of the way the original script of both the original Broadway stage production and the film version of West Side Story had been written, he was not able to. Richard Beymer was very upset by that, so he walked out of the Premiere of the film version.
B) Natalie Wood made absolutely no secret of her antipathy towards Richard Beymer during the filming of West Side Story. In fact, Natalie Wood had actually tried to get Richard Beymer kicked off the set on several occasions. Both of the above-mentioned things were painful to Richard Beymer, and it showed, somewhat in the film. Later, however, Richard Beymer saw Natalie Wood in a diner somewhere out in California, he approached her, and was attracted to her, and they subsequently made up thereafter.