West Side Story, as a classic film remains a charmer not only because of the subject matter, but because of the entire way in which the subject matter is handled. The fact that so much of West Side Story is told through dance, an intensely brilliant musical score, the fact that the on-location Manhattan and downtown Los Angeles filming areas and the sound-stage sets are so seamlessly and creatively put together to make the scenery look uncannily like a rough-and-rundown area of a large American city, plus the beautiful cinematography and costumes, and the wonderful cast, all of which are combined together to flesh out a beautiful story of love and romance that takes place and attempts to survive amid urban gang warfare and racial/ethnic hostilities and tribal loyalties, as well as attempts by adults to help the young people move in a better direction that prove to be futile at times.
Due to the very story behind West Side Story, as well as the cinematography, this is a film, to me, that absolutely must be watched from beginning to end. Otherwise, it feels like the story has been totally disrupted...and broken, if one gets the drift. If, for example, one misses the first 15 to twenty minutes of West Side Story, it can be more difficult for somebody who's not familiar with the story to really know where all the characters in this film are coming from, and who they really are. The overture of the film West Side Story does precisely that, by starting out with the environment that both the Jets and the Sharks, as well as the romancing Tony and Maria, and Anita and Bernardo, as well as the adults who (with a certain amount of trepidation and exasperation), attempt to help them and steer them in a better direction, are exposed to and/or have been born and raised up in.
Of course, in real life, the kind of environments that people do get raised up in and exposed to also contribute a great deal to what kind of people they are, and their type(s) of personalities, which is also part of West Side Story, as well. A good part of West Side Story's charm also lies with the fact that there is a certain amount of old-fashioned-ness to it, which is another reason that West Side Story, as a great classic film, should never, ever be re-made. The fact that it was filmed during a time when the parts of New York City and downtown Los Angeles were rather rough and run-down, in reality, has also given this great classic film its special charm, as well. The popularity of West Side Story, both as a film and as a stage play also lies with the subject matter, and, as I've recently put it in another post, the fact that it's so relevant, in our society, and worldwide, as well.
The various emotions and tempos of West Side Story, which, even today, still produce a great deal of excitement, due to being so beautifully expressed in the form of dance, also give West Side Story its charm. The Jet gang whistles, clearly derived from the three-noted sofar horn sound, which also takes place throughout much of the musical score, as well as the finger-snapping, the variation of emotions, and the fact that there's a message of reconciliation and acceptance in the end, when Anybodys finally gets accepted as an equal by the Jets as a result of her persistence, toughness and resourcefulness, and the at-least momentary intergroup understanding in tragedy when several Jets and Sharks come together to carry Tony's body off after he's been shot and killed by an angry, jealous Chino, in retaliation for having killed his fellow Shark member and friend, Bernardo, also help make West Side Story as charming as it is, even today, as well.
It is this kind of special charm that West Side Story, as a classic film, emanates, that makes me want to see it over and over and over again, without getting tired of it. It's West Side Story's special charm that makes the MGM quote "Unlike other classics, West Side Story grows younger." absolutely spot-on, as well.
All told, I admit, that even when I've recently seen a screening of West Side Story, or even when I've just seen a very new film, or another older classic that I like very much, my heart always goes back to West Side Story, so I keep my ears and eyes peeled for another screening of this great classic. To put it as succinctly as possible, West Side Story is a classic film that continues to live on in the hearts and minds of the people (myself included!), and has a powerful hold on the human imagination and psyche.