mapol (mapol) wrote in westsidestory,

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West Side Story--More Complex than many, if not most people realize:

West Side Story is a far more complex movie/musical, with far more subtle shades of gray in between the black and white, if one gets the drift. Not only is the very story behind West Side Story more complex than many, if not most people realize, but so are all the characters in this great movie/musical, to boot. Sure, West Side Story is about two warring street gangs on NYC's West Side, back in the 1950's and the 1960's (i. e. the White European Ethnic-American Jets and the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Sharks), but there's a great deal more to the fact that the Jets and Sharks are constantly at war with each other. The love between Maria, the younger sister of the Shark gang leader, Bernardo, and Tony, the founder and ex-leader of the Jets, which develops amid the conflict, only to go up in smoke as a result. West Side Story shows a least a couple of things that also frequently occur in real life: The fact that two people of opposing groups falling in love, because disapproval and hostility often bring young people together, and the fact that this same kind of overt disapproval and hostility on the part of both sides can also blow a love/romance apart, as well....

The various characters in West Side Story are also more complex than many people realize. It's not just simply that the Jets and Sharks are rough, tough and violent; they've all got more tender and gentle sides to them, as well, which also show at different times during this movie/musical. Riff, Ice and Action, who are the toughest members of the Jets, for example, despite their toughness and roughness, also show tenderness when necessary; towards the girls, and, Action, towards the end, when he gently moves towards Maria, after Tony has been shot and killed by Chino. Towards the end, after Riff's death during the Rumble, Ice shows an understanding and what seems like at least a momentary compassion towards most of the the Sharks, when Action, A-Rab and some other Jets are still calling for revenge against the Sharks after Riff's stabbing death by Bernardo during the Rumble. Yet, there's a certain irony that's displayed, when Ice says "Now hold it! Tony came through for us...we've gotta come through for Tony. We've gotta find him before Chino finds him!" That is enough to keep the rest of the Jets in check, and he's the one that gets everybody to cool down by dancing away their tensions in a large parking garage.

Baby-John, the youngest and least mature of the Jets, although he's aspiring to be somewhat of a tough kid, shows a certain amount of tenderness, understanding and compassion after the Rumble, not only when he's moved to tears by both the killings of Riff and Bernardo, but by the fact that he tenderly and gently drapes Maria's black mourning scarf over her head and shoulders, after Tony's been shot and killed, and she's kneeling over Tony's body, while mourning his death.

Bernardo and Anita are both firebrands, and yet they, too, had their tenderness, and their concern for each other and their family. Chino, on the other hand, is the antithesis of Bernardo, in terms of his personality; Chino is shyer, gentler, and less combative and inclined to fight than Bernardo is. Yet, at the same time, Chino's personality seems to undergo a profound change after he learns of the stabbing death of his friend and right-hand man, Bernardo, at the hand of Tony. No longer the shy, gentler person that was seen earlier in West Side Story, Chino has now turned into a very angry and somewhat rougher individual. Experiences like that can and do change people, and Maria is gentle, and prefers love over hate, and, personality-wise, is the antithesis of Anita, who's got a more fiery personality and is inclined to speak her mind, often disagreeing with Bernardo. Yet, both Maria and Anita's personalities change, or certain aspects of their personalities are brought out by the various events, including the deaths of Riff and Bernardo,and the fact that Chino's gunning for Tony in retaliation for Bernardo's death. Maria asserts her love for Tony, threatens to do to Chino what Tony did to Bernardo, and, after the Rumble, when the Jets and Sharks seem about to clash once again, Maria comes on with the following angry message for both the Jets and the Sharks:

"You ALL killed him (meaning Tony! And my brother, and Riff! Not with bullets and guns! With hate! Well...I can kill too, because now I have hate!" Anita's strong, disputing personality also comes out especially intensely after the scene in Doc's Candy Store, where she is insulted and almost raped by Action and most of the other Jets as she comes into Doc's Candy Store to relay the message to Tony (who's hiding down in Doc's cellar) that Chino's gunning for him. As a consequence of the Jets' insulting and attacking Anita, Anita angrily spits out a different message; that Chino found out about Tony and Maria...and killed her. This, I believe, caused Tony to blow his cover by running out of the Candy Store, shouting for Chino to come and get him, too, which, eventually happens; Chino appears from behind a building and shoots Tony dead, and then is escorted to a waiting police car afterwards, and nobody knows what happens to him. Another thing that makes West Side Story complex is that it leaves a good many things to the audiences' imagination(s), and what happens to Chino after he's escorted to a waiting police car after he's shot and killed Tony is one of them.

Anybodys is a complex person in her own right; she's begun asserting herself as a young woman long before it's fashionable to do so here in the United States, including the need to prove that she, too, can take care of herself, even going so fare as to duke it out, on occasion. The fact that Anybodys is the one that ends up finding Tony by going in and out of the shadows, warning him about Chino's gunning for him, and instructing Tony to hide in Doc's cellar. While some of the Jets, including the girls are hostile towards Anybodys, she eventually gains acceptance as an equal by the Jets, through her proof that she, too, is able to stand on her own and take care of herself in rough-and-tough situations. Her resourcefulness in her search for Tony is indicated by Anybody's going in and out of the shadows, spying around, entering into the Shark's territory, and listening to what's being said. I also have to admit that I think that Anybodys had started to fall for Ice, due to the fact that she got kind of dreamy-eyed when Ice called out to her at one point "Hey! Ya done good, buddy-boy!" and she (Anybodys) responded with a "Thanks, Daddy-o!" All of the above having been said about Anybodys, one has to wonder what kind of a gal she would've turned out to be if West Side Story, as a movie/musical, had come out later than it originally did.

As for Graziella and Velma, and the Shark girls, as well as Anita, one also has to wonder how they all might've turned out had West Side Story come out later than it originally did. The same thing could be said for Maria, to some extent, as well.

Officer Krupke, Lt. Schrank and Doc, the Candy Store owner, who are the three adults in West Side Story were also more complex than many, if not most people believe. Doc was gentle, and yet, when he lost his patience and slapped Tony for being so far from reality regarding the situation regarding his love for Maria, and was frustrated with the Jets because they didn't seem to want to stop acting out, he proved himself a complex person on the long run; attempting to help kids who were in trouble, and feeling like he's going nowhere. Lt. Schrank may have been bigoted and rough, but his discouragement and frustration with having dealt with gangs, including the Jets and the Sharks, along with some sadness and resignation at times, as well. Officer Krupke was possibly just as bigoted and cynical as Lt. Schrank, but was considerably quieter about it, so that it was harder to know what Krupe was thinking. Of course, in real life, being a cop or any other law-enforcement person is a rather dangerous job; they put their lives on the line for long hours every day, and some of do turn out cynical and/or brutal, to boot. That's how Lt. Schrank was, as well.

A-Rab also showed some tenderness when he comforted his best buddy and fellow Jets member, Baby-John, who'd been moved to tears by the killings during the Rumble, and defended him against Action's nastiness when he noticed that Baby-John had clearly been crying, even to the point where Action and A-Rab got into a little bit of a scuffle, which is broken up by a tenant in an apartment above the garage who throws a glass dish down at the Jets to make them shut up and go home, and Ice keeps Action and the other Jets in check when he leads them into the garage to dance their tensions away in the "Cool" scene.

Here's another thing about Ice: As tough as he was, he was clearly capable of keeping cool and bringing things under control if and when necessary. Several times during the movie, Ice had to keep action in check, when he started to become even more hyper and out of control than he generally was.

In some ways, however, Riff, Bernardo and Tony seemed to be the most complex characters in West Side Story. All three of them had been gang leaders, and they were out to prove their points; Riff, who'd taken over the Jets gang leadership after Tony had decided he'd had enough of the gangster life, was rather arrogant, but funny, tough and exuberant, and although perplexed about the fact that Tony didn't want to return to the Jets, he somewhat resigned himself, if one gets the drift. Riff was the most determined to keep the Sharks off of their territory, and yet admitted "The Sharks want a piece of this world too, and they're real down boys." This indicated a slight willingness to engage in a moment of fair play, as well. Riff's exuberance at the dance at the gym was clear, too, especially when he did those back-flips. Those were so cool. Yet, his arrogance and cockiness, along with his hostility towards the Sharks competing for the Jets' small piece of turf, helped bring his demise during the Rumble as well.

The Shark gang leader, Bernardo, was also quite complex. He was more sardonic than Riff, and yet, in his own right, he, too, was tough, although somewhat calmer and quieter about it. He, too, had a tender concern with the women in his life; both Anita and Maria, as well as the other Shark girls, who, btw, were quieter, as well. Yet, Bernardo's determination and arrogance, and toughness, also helped bring about Bernardo's demise at the hands of Tony, which, in turn, which in turn, helped helped bring about the demise of Tony at the hands of Chino, in retaliation.

West Side Story, overall, is a great movie/musical, which should be shown in many more movie theatres than it is.

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    Happy Birthday to ozma914. Best wishes for a wonderful day today and an even better year ahead.

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    Happy Birthday to Arthur Laurents

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    I've been reading The Leonard Bernstein Letters and while there really isn't much in letter form due to the fact that the foursome worked together…

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