As I have written on here before, West Side Story is a film that I never get tired of seeing over and over and over again. This diary is about a whole bunch of reasons why. Some of it will undoubtedly be familiar to all of you, and some of it will not. ...
Earlier today, on this forum, I noticed a post about the best romance films from the 1940’s through the 1960’s. Along with My Fair Lady, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and a whole bunch of other films, some of which I’d heard of and others I hadn’t, I was very happy to see that West Side Story was also included in this youtube video/list. As I looked at the list, realizing that most of the films that were listed and posted about on this particular youtube video, I came to realize that, although West Side Story was included as one of the best romance films of all times on this list, something else occurred to me:
What makes West Side Story such a beautiful and strong film is the fact that it’s a combination of a number of things. Whatever anybody may think of the romance between the ex-Jet leader/founder, Tony, and Maria (who are played by Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood), the younger sister of the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Shark gang leader, Bernardo, the romance between Tony and Maria is an integral and important part of the very story behind West Side Story.
While West Side Story is about Tony and Maria’s romance, which eventually goes up in smoke due to the hatred and conflict between the warring Jets and Sharks, West Side Story is also about a number of other things, as well.
West Side Story takes place in a rough and run-down urban area, on the West Side of 1950’s-1960’s Manhattan, in the United States’ largest city: New York. West Side Story is also about urban gang warfare, racial and ethnic tensions and hostilities, and conflict with the law, as well, as well as love and romance between two people of different racial/ethnic/cultural groups, all of which occur in real life, throughout the United States and throughout the world, generally.
West Side Story is also about rebellion and forbidden love, as well as tribal friendship and loyalties. It’s also about how our society has left groups of have-nots to compete with the crumbs that have been left to them by our society and our system, which is something that the Jets’ and Sharks’ competition for a small piece of turf is clearly indicative of, if one gets the drift.
West Side Story is also about the cruelty and hatred that the Jets not only inflict upon each other, but about the cruelty and hatred allocated to both gangs by law enforcement, but there are also very kindly and caring adults (such as Doc, the candy store owner, and Glad-Hand, the social worker, at the Gym), who try to help them, and steer them in a better direction.
If West Side Story is about all of the above-mentioned things, it’s about exuberance, arrogance, love of dance, and fun, as well, which are all indicated in the Dance at the Gym and the America scenes. The Officer Krupke scene also indicates the humor (albeit rather wry) in WSS, as well.
West Side Story is also about rebellion in the form of women/girls attempting to break away from the old, traditional values. Maria, Anita and Anybodys are the strongest women in West Side Story, for that particular reason. Maria rebels and falls in love with Tony, and Tony by falling in love with Maria. Anita, who clearly disapproves at first, unlike Bernardo, comes around to accepting Maria and Tony’s love, albeit grudgingly. Anybodys is persistent in gaining acceptance by the Jets as an equal and one of the gang, proving her toughness, resourcefulness, and her ability to take care of herself, and she finally does gain acceptance by the Jets.
The Rumble scene in West Side Story is the climax, where tensions ultimately explode, thus resulting in the deaths of Riff, Bernardo and Tony, and yet the Cool scene is the anti-climax, where hot blood is cooled by Ice, who takes over the Jet gang leadership after Riff’s death during the Rumble, after both the Jets and Sharks flee the police and go into hiding.
Yet, while West Side Story is about the harsher side of life in a run-down, rough urban area, there are gentler aspects, as well, such as the short-lived romance between Tony and Maria, the way both the Jets and Sharks romanced with their girls, and the fact that “Glad Hand” and Doc were gently trying to steer both gangs in a better direction.
West Side Story is also about possible redemption between people through intergroup reconciliation, which is strongly indicated by the fact that several Sharks and several Jets come together to carry Tony’s body off after he’d been shot to death, partly due to jealousy on the part of Bernardo’s friend, Chino, also a Shark gang member, and partly due to retaliation for Tony’s having stabbed Bernardo to death in retaliation for his having stabbed his (Tony’s) old buddy, Riff to death during the Rumble.
All told, West Side Story is a story that is greatly emphasized and told in the form of beautifully-choreographed dancing by the late Jerome Robbins, fabulous cinematography by Daniel Fapp and others, great scenery design as well as some local city streets filming on Manhattan’s West Side, and a brilliantly intense Leonard Bernstein musical score, as well as Stephen Sondheim’s great lyrics.
All told, just the right people were chosen for the cast of this great, golden oldie-but-keeper of a classic film. I also forgot to say that Officer Krupke and Lt. Schrank also epitomized the cruelty that was shown to both the Jets and Sharks in the form of hatred and insults to their ethnic and/or familial backgrounds, as well.
West Side Story, as a musical, for the reasons that I mentioned above, is one of the very rare musicals that is beautifully successful on screen, as well as on stage, due to the fact that it is such a passionate, dynamic musical because of its subject matter. The great colors that are used in this film, especially the use of a lot of red, emphasize and indicate much of the passions that are ignited in this film, also.
I've been keeping my eyes and ears open for another screening of the film West Side Story in our general area.