Perhaps it's the very story behind West Side Story, where a romance develops between a boy and a girl from two different backgrounds and different communities, amid the warring conflict between two urban gangs--one white ethnic (continental United States-born) Jets, and the newly arrived Puerto Rican Sharks on 1950's-1960's New York City's (i. e. Manhattan's) West Side, who are brought together by overt disapproval and tribal/ethnic loyalties of both the Jets and the Sharks, and yet that same romance ultimately going up in smoke due to these same overt hostilities, friendships, as well as gang/ethnic loyalties of both gangs....
Perhaps it's also the intensely brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical score that helps illustrate and tell this very story so nicely, also going from harsh to lyric and back again, many times during West Side Story.
Perhaps it's also the dancing that goes from exuberant to harsh & angry, and to exuberant, as well.
The alternating gentleness and harshness of West Side Story as a movie-musical is also something that beckons me to see it over and over again, and not being able to resist watching it, whether it's on a great big, wide movie theatre screen with the lights down low or even on TV, although nothing beats seeing the film West Side Story in a real movie theatre, on a great big screen, with the lights down low, and sharing the experience with a bunch of other people, whether one knows them or not.
The characters themselves in West Side Story, even as individuals, seem to go back and forth from being rough, harsh and angry, to being gentle, fair-playing and sympathetic and understanding, and back to being rough again, until the deaths of Riff, Bernardo and, ultimately, Tony, following the Rumble, seem to arrive, at least temporarily, to an understanding in tragedy that hints of a possible genuine truce, in which the Jets and the Sharks come to their senses, stop all their feuding, and ultimately become friends.
West Side Story, as a movie-musical, on the whole, ranges from exuberant, arrogant, harsh, and angry, to very lyric and gentle, to rough, violent, and ultimately leading to a nasty showdown, which results in three deaths; Riff, Bernardo and Tony go down for the final count, due to the constant feuding, arrogance and hatred between the Jets and Sharks.
Richard Beymer is portrayed as a gentle, reformed Tony, who, as an ex-Jets leader and founder of the Jets gang, longs for something besides gang life and the streets, and finds what he's been looking for at the dance that night, after his old buddy, Riff (who's taken over the Jets gang leadership after Tony steps away from the gang) convinces a reluctant Tony to meet him and the other Jets at the gym at ten o'clock that night. Tony finds what he's been looking for at the dance; he meets and falls in love with Maria, the younger sister of the Shark gang leader, Bernardo, who, like his fellow Shark members, as well as the rest of the Jets, disapproves of Tony and Maria's romance.
The Dance at the Gym scene, where the Jets, the Sharks and their girls square off and begin competing with each other, is a rougher, harsher part of West Side Story, and, like "Something's Coming" and "Tonight", as well as the pre-Rumble Quintet, is also a premonition of what is to come...both good and bad.
Both the "America" and the Officer Krupke scenes are a combination of harshness and humor. The Officer Krupke scene/song is a bitter lampoon of Officer Krupke and cops, generally, and sort of a black comedy. In the "America" scene, however, it's often difficult to tell whether or not the argument that the Sharks and their girls have about the immigrant experience in America is playful and satirical, or serious, if one gets the drift.
The Prologue/Jet Song is a scene that's full of braggadocio, arrogance, and determination to hold onto turf, come what may, as well as harshness, roughness, and cruelty. Yet, the cruelty that Lt. Schrank deals to not only the Puerto Rican Sharks, but, to a somewhat lesser degree, the Jets, as well, is even harsher.
The Pre-rumble Quintet, where the Jets and the Sharks are each determined to get the other side, at whatever cost, is full of threat, roughness and braggadocio, as well, especially on the part of the Jets, as well as the big plans on the part of everybody for a huge evening.
Anita and Bernardo plan to spend some quality time together and to hitch up, Tony and Maria plan to meet at the Bridle Shop, to pledge their love for each other, and the Jets and the Sharks per se, plan a big showdown under the West Side Highway. Harshness, lyricism, anticipation, and, ultimately the collapse of everybody's ideas of what life's really about. A harsh reality sets in, especially after the killings of Riff and Bernardo during the Rumble, and of Tony in retaliation for his (meaning Tony's) retaliatory stabbing and killing of Bernardo at the Rumble, proof that Tony, despite all his efforts to permanently get away from and eschew gangsterism and street life, was never able to do so, after all.
The Rumble is the climax of West Side Story, albeit a very violent one, that results in the deaths of Riff and Bernardo, while the "Cool" scene is sort of the anticlax, where the explosion that had been awaiting to erupt finally did, and there's more sadness than anger over the killings on the part of both the Jets and the Sharks, plus the realization that all their feuding, hatred, and ensuing violence and death, has been all for naught.
The Jets and the Sharks, plus their girls, as well as Tony and Maria, have all been sharply pulled back to reality by the three deaths. Yet, while there's gentleness in Tony and Maria's romance, and in the end, where a ray of hope of a possible truce shines through after Maria's angry message "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!"
So, West Side Story is a rare movie-musical that not only deals with racism, conflict with the law, the immigrant experience, forbidden romance, and urban gang warfare, but the fact that people can and do often come to terms after things come to a head, if one gets the drift. That being said, one has to wonder if the Jets regret attacking and almost raping the late Shark gang leader, Bernardo's girlfriend, Anita, when she went to Doc's Candy store, at Maria's request, to warn Tony about Chino's gunning for him, and are at a loss of how to say so, or if they still lack a conscience about that, and their behavior, generally.
The fact that the very story behind West Side Story is also told through the musical score, the brilliantly rich cinematography, the characters, and the fabulously-choreographed dancing by the late Jerome Robbins, as well as the on-location and staged sets that are so cannily and smartly created to look like a true-blue run-down urban enclave of a large American city, and the scenery, overall, have been combined to make a dynamic little package of a movie-musical what it is.
The scene between Riff and Tony, and when Anita is greeting Chino when he comes into the Bridal Shop are humorous, and gentle, as well, and yet evoking a lot of smiles and/or laughs.
Ahhhh, yes! The fact that West Side Story goes back and forth from rough to gentle and vice versa so many times, as does the musical score, and the very story behind West Side Story, is what brings me...beckons me to see it every single time it comes back.