West Side Story (1961)
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In the streets of Manhattan the Jets, led by Riff, and a rival gang of Puerto Rican immigrants, the Sharks, led by Bernardo begin to rumble. The police arrive and tell the "hoodlums" to get off the streets. The Jets discuss challenging the Sharks to one last all out "rumble", that will decide who gets control of the streets, and they will deliver the challenge to the Sharks at a dance later that night. Riff decides that his best friend Tony, a co-founder of the Jets who has left the gang to work at a local store, would be the best member of the Jets to present the challenge to the Sharks. When Riff visits Tony at the store, Tony initially refuses Riff's request to meet with the Sharks, but he later changes his mind. At the bridal shop where she works, Bernardo's sister, Maria complains to Bernardo's girlfriend, Anita. Maria believes that Bernardo is overprotective, never allowing her to have enough fun. Bernardo arrives and takes her to the dance. At the gym, the Jets, Sharks and girls are greatly enjoying themselves, but the rival gang members and their girlfriends remain apart. Tony and Maria see each other, become infatuated, almost going into a trance-like state and begin to dance, then embrace in a kiss. Bernardo pushes them away from each other and orders Maria home, and tells Tony to stay away from his sister.
Tony discreetly visits Maria outside the fire escape at her home and they confirm their love. The next day at the bridal shop, Maria sings to her coworkers about how happy she is. Tony arrives to see Maria, she pleads with Tony to prevent the rumble altogether, even if only a fist fight is planned, and Tony promises to do so. At the the rumble, the fight begins between two rival gang members. Tony arrives and tries to stop the fight, but is met with ridicule and mockery from Bernardo and the Sharks. Unable to stand by and watch his best friend be humiliated, Riff angrily lashes out and punches Bernardo. Drawing their knives, Riff and Bernardo fight each other, their duel ending with Bernardo killing Riff. Enraged, Tony kills Bernardo with Riff's knife! Tensions are now at an all time high as both gangs want to get even and Tony and Maria's love is being torn apart by all the hate.
West Side Story is truly a special movie, I personally don't know why it's not on the top 250 IMDb movies, if you are going to watch a musical this is the one that I always recommend. We don't get musicals to this big scape any more, they don't have the same heart as West Side Story had. The actors are absolutely incredible, it's so weird when I watched a documentary on this movie, apparently Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer hated each other, but I guess that must help during the lust scenes because hate and love are practically in the same category when it comes to passion. But the true stars of the film are Rita Moreno as Anita and Russ Tamblyn as Riff, great performances from the both of them. West Side Story is a movie that has no flaws what so ever and anyone who wants to argue me on that, feel free to send me a message.
This movie poignantly (if simplistically) explores the purity of first love, while tackling intolerance and racism head-on, avoiding the tired, politically correct clichés that movies of today too often wallow in. Despite the simplicity of the story, it is always an emotional experience, no matter how many times you've seen it. While it is true that the Academy Awards have become very politicized, and no doubt always were to a degree, this movie snagged ten of them when great movies were being turned out almost as often as mindless pap is today. Not to be missed.
I bought the DVD "on spec" in a CD/DVD exchange store in Sydney for $10. I've had it in my hand a couple of times before but have always put it back on the shelf. This time I went through with the purchase and am now wondering what could have come over me, not buying it before.
Those here who have said you really need to watch it on the Big Screen are absolutely right. In my case I watched it using a video projector throwing the image, big, bright and beautiful, onto a 12 foot screen. The photography used the wide screen format uncompromisingly. There was no caution here to frame the action for possible television cropping, or even much consideration given to a 2.35:1 "Cinemascope" presentation. Super Panavision's aspect ratio is not as wide as Cinemascope's 2.35:1, and every square inch of screen space was used for one or another important element of composition.
Bernstein's music is a tour de force. Having watched On The Town only a few days back, it was interesting to contrast the two musicals. On The town is, of course, 15 years or so older than West side Story, but a comparison between the two scores is chalk and cheese. You could tell that Bernstein was holding himself back in On The Town. It wasn't his project. The numbers were almost self-censored. But West side Story was his baby, and it shows.
The sheer brilliance of the music, the enchanting daring of it, its raucous atonality coupled with sweetness of melody are awesomely impressive, as show-stopper after show-stopper is thrown onto the screen to continually up the amazement quotient, time after time.
I played West Side Story loud, very loud. The surround sound knocked my socks off from the opening aerial ambiance of Manhattan streets to the orchestrations themselves. I remember Bernstein in the documentary about the concert version of West Side Story saying, aside to the camera, after "Cool, Boy" was recorded, "You know, this is pretty good..." One of the great understatements, even if coming from the music's creator.
See this film. Play it loud. Watch it on a big screen if you can. If you do you may, like I did, sit there thrilled, swinging your head from one side of the Super Panavision screen to the other, trying to take in the overwhelming avalanche coming at your eyes, your ears and your heart. It was an almost perfect transfer from film to DVD: color, sharpness, depth.
It's been a long while since I've watched a film with a silly grin on my face right through, sometimes gasping at the sheer knock-out brilliance of what film-making can be at its best. West Side Story was one of those times.
Maria, a lovely, innocent Puerto-Rican girl ("Juliet") and sister of a formidable gang leader, falls for an opposing though reluctant white-skinned gang member Tony ("Romeo") with tragic results. Set in a tough New York neighborhood where the two disparate groups, the Jets ("the Montagues") and Sharks ("the Capulets"), battle for street territory armed with knives, zip guns and rocks, the determined love affair sets off a calamitous chain of events that, in the end, manage to instill hope in diversity. Topical enough?
The strength of "West Side Story" is that it does not try to hide its stage roots. It still unfolds like a musical play. The film is expanded but the talented cast is not dwarfed by on-location surroundings or panoramic camera work ("South Pacific" fell victim to this). On the contrary, the cast lights up every single playing space with sure-footed aliveness and plenty of 'tude. Co-directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins stay true to the original, having the sense not to alter or butcher the score ("Man of La Mancha") or haul in a slew of new, untried songs ("On the Town", which actually worked for that musical). In a particularly "Wise" move (sorry), two numbers were repositioned to enhance or intensify the narrative flow. In the film version, the "Officer Krupke" number sparked by a goofy Three Stooges-like levity, is moved earlier into the proceedings BEFORE the serious rumbles start, serving neatly as a light and humorous anti-establishment statement. The tightly-coiled, finger-snapping "Cool" number is pushed way back, giving both song and situation a heightened impact as it goads and ignites the Jet's feelings of pent-up rage and retaliation AFTER their leader is murdered. Smart move, daddio.
The late Natalie Wood has been crucified by critics for her ethnic portrayal of Maria ever since day one. It was not because of any political incorrectness at the time (reigning Hollywood white glamour queen goes Latino) for that hot issue didn't erupt until decades later. It was her limited range as an actress. But over the years, I have grown accustomed to Wood. Yes, despite the melodramatic leanings, the necessity of vocal dubbing (by the incomparable Marni Nixon), the flawed Puerto-Rican accent and the general overuse of Coppertone, I still feel for this Maria. What Wood does offer is utmost sincerity and heartfelt poignancy. So I'm one person who has gotten off the Natalie Wood-bashing wagon. Richard Beymer is another matter. An extremely weak, uncool choice for Tony, his toothy, freshly-scrubbed, chipmunk-like mug and awkward gait reads more like library assistant than gang member. Who would have thought Beymer would be the one to dazzle us much later in the totally cool and offbeat "Twin Peaks"? Still, Wood and Beymer commit themselves 100% and manage to create a credible, if not charismatic, love duet that doesn't get in harm's way.
Since the film's emphasis is really on dance, it's the flashy second leads who provide the real firepower. Rita Moreno's smouldering Anita ("The Nurse") is a spitfire of anger and attitude, while George Chakiris as her Shark leader boyfriend Bernardo ("Tybalt") demonstrates slick, controlled menace. Both Oscar-awarded here, Chakiris, in his debut, proved a lightweight acting talent himself, never finding a role like this again. Russ Tamblyn as Riff ("Mercutio"), the recently inaugurated leader of the Jets, is a hotbed of jaunty, scrappy impatience. Both he and Chakiris are riveting as they demonstrate poetry in motion, leading a pack of Edward Villela-like tough guys into athletic, gravity-defying dance moves.
"Romeo and Juliet vs. the 'Hood" should be required viewing for all grade-school children solely on the basis of art and education. The adults already know the value of this treasure.
Even though I'm not a big fan of this particular genre of film. I found West Side Story to be so impressively produced that it somehow transcended far beyond being just a mere "Musical" in the strictest sense of the word.
West Side Story is literally bursting at the seams and filled to capacity with vivid imagery. This highly-energized film clearly captures the vibrant atmosphere of the late 1950s, where rival youth gangs get their prejudiced, little noses out of joint and prepare to rumble in the streets of NYC.
With its memorable music and songs, dazzling choreography, striking sets and superb direction by Robert Wise, West Side Story is truly a triumph on every level.
This film is a magnificent achievement that (back in 1961) set a whole new standard for modern-day movie Musicals.
In fact Wise handles things very well. We get the same silent sweep over New York that he later gave us over Austria in "The Sound of Music" - the sweep that says, "I'm going to show you New York" (or Austria, as the case may be). The filming and the colours are stark and intentionally artificial: it does feel as if we are being shown a city. Performances are all fine.
Of course, most of what makes this film great was already present in the musical. But what's wrong with that? Surely Wise shouldn't HAVE to spin straw into gold. A wise man - sorry - just accepts it with good grace when he is handed gold to begin with.
Shakespeare's Montagues and Capulets become two rival teen-age street gangs: the 'American' Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks... The two young idealistic lovers enhance the attractiveness of two nice kids, caught in racial and ethnic barriers... They are victims of the intolerance, misunderstanding, and mistrust that seem to be ever-present in human society... The film (nominated for an incredible 11 Academy Awards) took home an incredible 10 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (George Chakaris), Best Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno), and Best Direction (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins).
The opening of West Side Story is very innovative... As the overture plays, an abstract design on the screen changes color and becomes a breathtaking aerial view of the island of Manhattan... The camera finally swings down to the West side of New York, where the Jets are snapping their fingers as they walk the streets... Their hated Puerto Rican rivals, the Sharks appear, charged with aggressive energy... Both gangs compete for the control of the poor and filth neighborhood...
Jerome Robbins's powerful choreography captures the explosive tension boiling in the big city slums... The streets (with their flick knives and razors) come alive with athletic young dancers... The tender lyrics and poignant music complement and balance the tough nature of the choreography... The songs advance the plot, and illustrate the action... They range from jazzy and feverish to lyrical to comical, and they are all richly evocative of the film's moods and characters...
In "Maria," Tony gives voice to his feelings about the girl he has come to love... In "I Feel Pretty," Maria describes her own reactions to the miracle of love...
Before their lives turn bleak, the two lovers express their joy in soaring music: Tony with his hopeful 'Something's Coming,' Maria with her entrancing 'I Feel Pretty,' accompanied by Anita and her teasing friends... Their love blossoms out on a poignant scene in "Tonight," and at a bridal shop ("One hand, One Heart") when both affirm their love for each other by celebrating a mock marriage ceremony...
'West Side Story' is a beautiful work of art with spectacular music and energetic dancing... It is surely the finest dance musical since 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.' The principal dance numbers are all terrific... The propulsive movement of Riff and the Jets as contrasted with the free movement of Bernardo and the Sharks...
Rita Moreno is spitfire as Anita... Her skillful dancing and Latin temperament are perfect for the character of Anita, a fiery lady who leads her girls in an exciting mambo dance... "Life is alright in America" is possibly the most triumphant sequence of the film... A welcome tone of mockery is introduced, and the 'mambo' atmosphere makes you want to jump out of your seat and dance...
'West Side Story' is a calculated milestone in screen musicals... It breaks new ground in its depiction of contemporary social issues in a musical... The motion picture explores with deep emotional resonance, a world of hate, violence and prejudice... It challenges all of us to struggle for understanding and justice...
History will remember Leonard Bernstein as the most important American musical force in the 20th Century... He is one of the greatest conductors that has ever lived... In 'West Side Story' his superb music communicates directly with the heart...
I'm not old enough to have seen the original Broadway play, but I saw a recent revival, and the movie even improves on the play by moving a couple of musical numbers around so they fit better with the plot. Great movie musicals are few and far between these days ('Chicago' sold well--I couldn't quite deal with Richard Gere as a song and dance man); I wish there was another 'West Side Story' in store to entertain me for the next 50 years of my life.
An incredible musical--the songs have become legendary and the dance numbers are easily the most energetic and incredible ones ever caught on film. It was (partially) shot on location in NYC which helps and is full of color and life.
Unfortunately there are problems here: Natalie Wood hated Richard Beymer--and it comes through loud and clear. There's a unbelievable lack of sexual chemistry between them and Wood gives a rare bad performance. Beymer is tall, handsome, muscular--and a total blank as Tony. The poor guy is trying but Wood's attitude obviously bothered him. Still everything else about the movie is great. I have a few minor quibbles: How did Tony know where Maria's apartment was?; "I Feel Pretty" is actually hilarious--check out Wood's "dancing"; the "Cool" number is great to look at but brings the movie to a screeching halt.
But everything else works. Chakiris and Rita Moreno are just fantastic as Bernardo and Anita--their dancing and acting is just perfect--they richly deserved those Academy Awards they won. Russ Tamblyn is also very good as Riff (leader of the Jets) and shows some incredible dance moves. And look for John Astin in a hilarious bit at the dance.
All the dances and numbers are good and the lip syncing is pulled off by Beymer and Wood pretty well. But the show stopper is "America"--that number comes right out of the screen at you full force. The lyrics are sanitized from the Broadway show but who cares? It still works.
This won 10 Academy Awards--including Best Picture and Best Director(s). A true classic musical. I've seen it tons of times and I never get tired of it. A must-see. I give it a 10 all the way.
As a matter of art, WestSide Story combines a walloping score with exuberant choreography and spectacular screenplay to create a transcendent fusion of Realism and Fantasy, that will forever be a feast for the eye, the ear, and ultimately the heart. As a matter of movie concepts, the story line has the perfect progress beginning with the introduction of the two confrontational 1950s' New York city gangs, continuing with the love occurring between a girl from an immigrant group and a boy from a fanatical nationalist group, ending with the death of the gang leaders and the lover boy. When the story begins to progress, it becomes more and more fascinating through focusing of the lovers struggling to come together. There we admire successful acting of Rita Moreno(supporting actress), Susan Oakes and George Chakiris.
9 out of 10.
It's fair enough that West Side Story is something of a sacred cow for Broadway fans. Leonard Bernstein, although not as prolific as Gerschwin, Berlin, Kern, Rodgers or Loewe, placed himself on a par with these giants of musical theatre with this one score, a mix of edgy jazz and heart-wrenching melody. The Arthur Laurents story has enough bold changes to make the Romeo and Juliet tale work for the modern era, while still retaining the forceful core and emotional impact of Shakespeare's play. Then there is the choreography of Jerome Robbins, turning aggressive tension into dance moves, with complex layers and patterns that seem almost contradictory but work harmoniously. But what is really special is how all these things weave into each other. Bernstein's score references and repeats itself; for example the oft-heard whistle, the opening line of "Ma-ri-a" and the start of the baseline for "Cool" are all the same three notes. The choreography picks up on every subtlety of the music, and blurs the lines between dancing and fighting. Even the dialogue has a kind of snappy rhythm to it, allowing the talkie scenes to flow straight into the musical numbers.
Walter Mirisch, who acquired the filming rights, knew what he was doing when he handed the project to two directors, Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. Robbins had directed it for the stage, and there was really no-one better to ensure his own choreography survived intact for the screen version. However with no experience behind a camera, it was unlikely he could have tackled the whole thing single-handed. Robert Wise was the perfect partner for him, a highly professional and dedicated screen director, who had never done a musical before but had proved himself sensitive to rhythm and movement in pictures such as This Could Be the Night and I Want to Live!. Between them, Wise and Robbins have reproduced the synchronicity of the stage show, as well as extending it in a cinematic dimension.
In the location-shot "Prologue", the camera becomes a part of the choreography, beginning with those jerky pans in time with the Jets' finger-clicking. This I believe was largely the input of Robbins, who was apparently fascinated by what cinema could do. He does some great work with colour, such us the red background that suddenly comes into view in that first close up of George Chakiris (Bernardo). As well as the dramatic scenes, I understand Wise was solely responsible for directing the less dance-orientated numbers such "Something's Coming", "Maria" and "Tonight". His approach is subtler, but he still cleverly merges image and music, keeping the camera close for the quieter moments, then pulling back as the song becomes bigger, allowing the backgrounds to become part of the tone. Wise also holds up the musicality elsewhere. One trick this former editor uses is to ensure that at key moments consecutive shots are jarringly different in colour and arrangement, which keeps that jagged rhythm going in image as well as sound.
One major source of controversy was the changes to the cast. It was a fact in Hollywood at this time that non-singing actors would be cast in the lead roles, to be dubbed by non-acting singers. It's a shame I admit, but it's reasonable. Natalie Wood was a marvellous dramatic player and experienced movie actress, adept at emoting for the camera. Richard Beymer is not an exceptionally good lead man, but he is good enough, and at least looks the part. Still, one thing that couldn't be faked was dancing, and all the gang members are necessarily played by professionals in this respect. What is great about these supporting players is that they make dancing, singing and acting become one. Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris and especially the magnificent Rita Moreno all dance in the way their character should move. Moreno, using her own voice for all but one number, continues to spit out her lyrics just as Anita would, treating each song as a piece of drama.
But there are still one or two things for the theatre snobs to nitpick over. There is the re-ordering of several songs to take place at different times. This was done to keep the lighter songs in the first half of the picture and keep the darkening of mood towards the end consistent, and it works for the film. Bernstein apparently did not like this recording of his score, but it doesn't seem to have done the picture any harm. And there are of course those who will automatically object to a screen adaptation of anything on principle, but let's face it – we don't really need to address that here do we?
All of which leaves us with just the whinges of the pretentious film fans, who seem to think that cinema is only about "auteurs", film noir, nouvelle vague, the art house and bloody Stanley Kubrick. There isn't much to say to this bunch. All they need is to lighten up, stop being afraid of a little music and dance, and realise that gritty realism isn't the only way to make a point.
*In his book, The Making of West Side Story, which is about the Broadway production.
Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins directed this poignant and powerful musical with a talented cast of performers--Natalie Wood at her dewy-eyed loveliest as the Juliet-like heroine and Richard Beymer doing his best to bring some heart-felt passion to the role of the Romeo-like Tony, but he's too refined to be believable as an ex-gang member. At least he does have some chemistry with Natalie and obviously put his heart and soul into his performing. The voice dubbing for both is done skillfully, but I would have preferred a stronger voice for Beymer.
Rita Moreno (not Chita Rivera as another commentator named her) and George Chakiris are beyond reproach as Anita and Bernardo--and all of the gang members do superb footwork and acting as the Jets/Sharks. Most impressive is the actor playing Ice (Tucker Smith) who figures prominently in the finger-snapping "Cool" number.
This is the quintessential 1960s musical with some expert choreography (the rooftop version of "America" is a standout) and stellar work from everyone in the cast. Leonard Bernstein must have been proud of this film version of his Broadway musical. Robert Wise's firm control in blending the music with the "book" is craftsmanship at its finest.
By all means, a musical that deserved all of its Oscars!!
You might not have gotten Oklahoma, you might have thought Carousel was quaint and you sure thought South Pacific was for your parent's generation, but West Side Story spoke to you. It was about young people just trying to belong, if you will looking for a place, in time and space for us.
And wonder of wonders not only could the American Musical Theater speak to you, but when your English teacher told you about the guy who wrote the story that this was based on, well maybe that guy who writes in incomprehensible English, that William Shakespeare guy, maybe he had some other relevant things to say. West Side Story promoted literacy and taste for a generation and you can't get a higher accolade than that.
It's a difficult production also because it involves skill in acting, in dance, and you've got to have a great singing voice to deal with Leonard Bernstein's music and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics. They got a really great cast together on Broadway with Larry Kert, Carol Lawrence, Chita Rivera, and the rest. They all sang and danced and acted these Shakespearean based roles beautifully. Unfortunately there wasn't a movie name in the lot.
Acting and dancing can't be faked on the silver screen, but singing can be dubbed as it was for leads Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood. A lot of Rita Moreno's songs were dubbed as well though that America number is all Rita. She'd actually done musicals before, The King and I and The Vagabond King remake are two of them. The voices of Jimmy Bryant and Marni Nixon fit them perfectly.
West Side Story is pretty, witty, and bright and the witty part comes from two ensemble numbers Officer Krupke done by the Jets and America done by the Pyerto Rican Sharks. Listen very closely to the entertaining social commentary made by Stephen Sondheim. These numbers together with the accompanying Jerome Robbins choreography are some of the best examples of all the components of a successful musical working together.
The ballads like Tonight, I Feel Pretty, A Place For Us, require almost opera like voices to sing them. I'd get either the Broadway cast album or the cast album for this film as a must for a recording collection. I happen to have a bootleg recording of Judy Garland and Vic Damone doing a selection from Garland's TV show. It is beautiful and priceless.
One other thing about West Side Story that is endearing for me. Pay close attention to the role of Anybody's. It may be the first time that a transgender individual was portrayed in a major motion picture, let alone one that was the Best Picture of 1961. IMDb gives very little in the way of information about Susan Oakes the actress who played Anybody's. But her performance is nothing less than a harbinger of what Hilary Swank did as Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry.
Like the kids from Romeo and Juliet and 16th century Verona, Italy, West Side Story is about young people just trying to find a place in time and space, finding a new way of living away from the dumb prejudices of their elders. They almost break free too.
West Side Story won 10 Academy Awards including a joint Best Director Oscar for Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno and a flock of technical awards. It set a standard for stage and screen to be both entertaining and contemporary.
And it's so pretty, witty, and bright.
That aside, a great musical score with a great story to back it up. Leonard Bernstein out does himself in this movie. This is definetly a movie to see; an classic for all time. Like its trailer says, "West Side Story does not grow old."
A tour-de-force film show, clocking in at 152 minutes.
Even though I was no fan of the Tony/Maria story, I can watch this movie with absolute anticipation every time, due to all the other characters: Ice: the cool-est gang member ever, Anybodys: the persistent tomboy who wants to be a jet, Bernardo: a chilly adversary and Action: the brooding gang member with anger issues.
And the songs.. Cool, Officer Krupke, The Quintet, the Jet Song.. if they don't keep you captured at the screen.. well, nothing will.
All in all, a masterly done movie, where the music is as much a part of the success as the actors/characters.
See this movie.
To the films praise, West Side Story hasn't abandoned intricate matters. The dialogue delves into the pointlessness of juvenile conflict along with discrimination encountered by foreign nationals, as two cultures come face to face, in the battlefield that is Manhattan. West Side Story delves into conflict among two gangs of juvenile delinquents with contrasting ethnic cultures. The young 'Sharks' from Puerto Rico are continuously tormented by 'The Jets', a Polish-American blue collar labour group. With opaque themes, meaningful melodies, and the spotlight on social dilemmas, a critical revolution in American theatre is born. Vicious encounters are acted in sweeping, cat-like dance, elevating towards a pounding upsurge as Bernardo's sister Maria falls in love with Riff's former accomplice Tony. West Side Story's attitude towards aggression is indeed distinctive. The film is more or less bloodless, with the knifing and gun firing acts unadulterated. Each brawl is extremely formalized and unconnected with realism, as feelings are displayed through dance, throughout the casts' mission of hunting and assaulting one another. Nonetheless, there are genuine perceptions of danger to certain displays, attributable to impressive dance compositions and the discordant attainment Bernstein creates, as the audience not only to see the violence, but feel it. The intensity of visually striking displays where individuals are killed is indisputably reduced, as this method empowers a grittier tale to be conveyed amidst its melodious structure.
West side story begins as the camera falls majestically on New York City and meets 'The Jets', an assembly of deprived teens, lurching eagerly about a dilapidated playground. Their figures step delicately and passionately in constant automatic outbreaks of dance. This introduces West Side Story as a musical, displaying a captivating blend of love, misfortune, brutality, music and dance. The introductory finger-clicking arrangement is without a doubt, one of the greatest usages of dance ever known to cinema. In the emergence of the beat, an eager passion races through the juveniles resilient, supple bodies with electrifying dance routines, directed by Jerome Robbins together with the liveliness of the narrative. West Side Story pleasures in parts which are greatly missed from contemporary films, being one of the greatest musicals ever fabricated. Bernstein's film is unarguably impressive, composed of around twelve songs, with love songs such as 'Somewhere' and 'Tonight', instantly known.
Leaving aside the pliés and pirouettes, West Side Story centres itself around a star-crossed romance, hidden amidst feuding families along with the effective disposition of clashing street gangs. This au courant showpiece, which parallels with Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet, appears as modern today as it did during the films initial deliverance in 1961. West side story, which starred the beautiful Natalie Wood (Maria) alongside the charming Richard Beymer (Tony) as ill-fated sweethearts on opposing sides of a Manhattan acrimonious dispute, lives on to be one of the most courageous and fervently convincing musicals of all time. West Side Story achieved ten Oscars, including Best Directing for Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Aesthetically, the film is a delight. Whilst the attention of the viewer is of course on the music, Daniel L. Fapp and Robert Wise provide the big screen with an exclusive appearance which reminisces on, but does not exactly duplicate Manhattan's West Side throughout the 1950s. Each scene in this film has legitimacy and honesty, obtaining a clever, stylish management of a comprehensive thesis. Ernest Lehman's dialogue is charming, extracted from Arthur Laurent's book, with Wise's directing being authentic and film-wise, creating an efficient blend of austere and desiring characteristics. From the spectacular introductory footage of Manhattan to the endings concluding act, West Side Story shines with filmic vigour, seldom displayed in cinema since its first performance fifty-two years ago.
As the rivalry between the Sharks and Jets becomes clear to the audience, the leaders of the two, Riff representing the Jets, and Bernardo representing the Sharks, decide it is best to settle their differences in a rumble where the winning gang will gain control of the streets once and for all. Riff decides he must obtain the help of his best friend and former Jet member Tony, a handsome young man who has given up that life to work in a shop. Though resistant at first, Tony finally agrees to accompany the Jets to a dance that night where they will present the Sharks with this proposition. It is there that Tony sees Maria for the first time and they both fall in love, however Maria is the younger sister of Bernardo and so the tragedy begins.
I must admit I was skeptical the first time I had seen this film because I wondered how in the world would a gang rivalry be portrayed through dance and music, I mean love okay, but anger and violence? Boy was I wrong! The quality of this film truly is one of a kind. The choreography keeps you thrilled and is truly breathtaking at times. West Side Story would also not have been such a credible film without the participation of it's actors.
Natalie Woods does a splendid job at portraying the female lead Maria, a young Puerto Rican girl struck by love when she first sets eyes on Tony who represents everything her brother and his gang detest. Two actors in particular, however, certainly out shined both Natalie and Richard Beymer who plays Tony in my opinion. Rita Moreno as Anita, couldn't have done a better job at bringing a strong Latin element to the film that Maria lacked. We really get a feeling of Puerto Rican pride every time Anita appears on the screen and the same goes for Bernardo played by George Chakiris. The chemistry between Chakiris and Moreno bounces off the stage, as if you had known this couple your whole life. Had the storyline not been so strong, you almost forget about Maria and Tony and completely focus on Anita and Bernardo especially in the "America" scene.
As a skeptic, the only thing I found unsettling at the end of West Side Story was how quick Maria and Tony fall in love! After all the singing and the dancing and the heartbreak, once the credits started rolling I sat there thinking "Wait, what? They barely met each other at a dance!" Then again that goes to show how captivating the film is, if only near the end did I ask myself such questions. Officer Krupke really did a good job getting under my skin, but then again that just goes to show how well of a job actor William Bramley did in portraying a dirty, prejudice cop.
Overall, West Side Story is definitely something to get your mind out the High School Musical gutter we have going on now a days. This is acting , dancing, and singing at it's best with out a doubt.
That being said, I do not want to let my disillusionment cloud my objectivity. The film was not all bad – there were pleasant aspects. The choreography by Robbins is sheer genius. I do not envy the gruelling efforts the cast and crew made to create this excellence. The stories of Robbins need to create perfection in every take are well known. His inability to say 'Cut!' did ultimately lead to his removal from production due to financial impracticality but his assistants proved loyal to his vision and every step we see is his. Robbins displays innovativeness far out ranking any of his contemporaries. The notable scene whereby the gangs run toward a tall chain-link fence and manoeuvres themselves barehanded upwards and over onto the playground below in one fluid motion is not only incredible to behold in the moment, but you cannot help but wonder how many times the poor actors, not stuntmen, were forced to carry out this sequence to give it it's effortlessness.
I also found the retelling of 'Romeo and Juliet' itself to be utterly refreshing. I enjoyed the setting's transference from 16th Century Italy to the more familiar Upper West Side New York. The Montagues and Capulets become two rival street gangs - the second generation European immigrant Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks struggling to find their place in the world. While I find fault with the actual names of the gangs and dub them corny, the perpetuation of the young adults as victims of racial barriers evokes empathy in the viewer and an understanding of the feud not present in Shakespeare's play due to purposeful ambiguity. The removal of the parents from the plot and the casting of a young Rita Moreno as Anita to mirror the role of the older Nurse serve to make the film more appealing for a younger audience. These simple plot devices come together to make William Shakespeare approachable and take away the impossibility of coming to terms with his extensive literary catalogue.
Be all that as it may, I cannot hide my belief that this film was anti-climactic. I found the dialogue uninspired and bland. It was corny, and not in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. As a Disney lover, I am a big fan of cheesy fairy tale romance. That being said, I cannot hide my disdain for the interchanges between the two leads Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer). Firstly, there is a sheer lack of chemistry between the two lovers. Beymer is cripplingly insincere due to his incapability to carry the role of leading man let alone portray the role of a reformed gang leader. I am unable to find them to be a credible couple. I do not root for them. In terms of casting, on the other hand Rita Moreno's portrayal of Anita saves the show. She is utterly deserving of her Oscar. She exudes a charisma, magnetism and passion in that role that puts on display the numerous flaws of Beymer and Wood for all to see.
While I can admire the bold move to rewrite Shakespeare's tragic ending of mutual suicide, I cannot help but wonder if perhaps to have had Maria shoot herself would have saved my view of the film. While this film does indulge on tragedy through violence, murder and an attempted rape, I cannot help but say I was unmoved. The film lacked the same powerful ending that 'Romeo and Juliet' has. The death of Juliet in the play is critical to the play's success. It embodies the play's message of love and intensifies its moral - intolerance creates only sorrow. I understand that it played into the character development of Maria in becoming a confident and independent woman, but I do think her death could have given the movie the strong conclusion it so desperately needs. The hint of reconciliation between the Jets and the Sharks is utterly contrived and does not do anything to add a satisfactory climax. If anything, it only serves to underline American cinema's need at the time to provide feel good cinema and a happy ending.
Overall, the film's drama is nothing compared to its dancing. The leads are overshadowed by Rita Moreno. The gangs are parodies. The ending is lacklustre. It is for these reasons I would give it only three-and-a-half out of five stars. For a film with such potential and such acclaim, I truly had expected more.
WEST SIDE STORY is a modern (although now it's a little older) version of Romeo & Juliet, taking place in New York City. Two rival gangs, the Jets (the Americans) and the Sharks (the Hispanics) constantly battle for turf. Tony (Richard Beymer), former leader of the Jets, falls in love with Maria (Natalie Wood), the sister of Sharks' leader Bernardo (George Chakiris). They try to keep their love alive while the two gangs try to tear it apart, all the time singing songs and dancing.
The acting is not too great, but the singing and dancing is very good, and that's more important in a movie like this one. Aside from Tony, Maria, Bernardo and a select few more, most of the characters are very two-dimensional and boring. But all of them are only there to support the love story between Tony and Maria.
At times, I found this movie downright boring, and especially in the beginning-middle, I was not always paying attention. The ending is fairly good, and the beginning is a great start, but at times I was very unsatisfied with this movie. Still, it's great for the musical lover, and fair for the moviegoer. (But I still say go rent the movie version of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.)
In 1950s New York City, the streets are owned by the gangs: the Jets, good old American bad boys, and the Sharks, Puerto Rican immigrants. Though generally both sides are all talk, no actual action, that all begins to change when an "ex" Jet (because when you're a Jet you're a Jet all the way) named Tony falls for Maria, little sister of the Sharks' leader Bernardo. Their secret affair grows amid a forthcoming rumble that promises to change all their lives.
"West Side Story" nearly swept the Academy Awards, taking home statues for 10 of its 11 nominations. From a modern perspective, it's hard to see why at first, but when you get down to it, it's very clear. Robbins, who also directs, (alongside Robert Wise), creates a Manhattan that could only exist in a fairytale. Not that it's magical or enchanted, but it intentionally lacks any historical/locational context outside of the costumes and hairstyles. The streets of the city are empty except for the gangs--nothing seems to happen outside of their little world. What this does is set us up to watch that world come crashing down as the tragedy ensues.
Robbins creates that world with a long opening sequence of gang members dancing and fighting with elegant grace. It comes off as odd, but it really sets the desired tone for the film. Everything is a song and dance. Robbins' choreography is sharp and popping, adding to the excitement of the film. The music is phenomenal, providing a wide range of styles that create a wide range of emotions. From the aggressive, vibrant "Dance at the Gym" and "America" to the youthfully optimistic "Maria" and "Somewhere," there's various moods all throughout this film. The costume and background colors (reds and purples for the Sharks and blues, golds and oranges for the Jets) reflect this at points too.
The acting is certainly not the film's best aspect, but it shouldn't go unmentioned. Oscar- winner Rita Moreno plays up the fantastic part that is Anita, Bernardo's girlfriend; Natalie Wood outshines her co-star as Maria. In general, the characters of the film are rather one- dimensional, so actors like Richard Beymer (Tony) can get away with having only a love- struck look on his face the entire film. At the same time, the one-dimensionality is part of creating the fairytale illusion. You know that by film's end these characters are going to be more complex.
What it comes down to, however, is that the story will get you every time. It's the reason "Romeo and Juliet" has resonated through centuries: seeing the tragedy unfold when you know these kids were just monkeying around is very sobering, especially after the whimsical, musical journey that is the major portion of the film. It's an inescapable emotional trap: even though you see how ridiculous Tony and Maria's love is, you care about the story unfolding and the hate and prejudice bothers you. It's as if out of nowhere, this fun, cute little musical evolves into something that resonates tremendously as a period piece and warning about intolerance in general. It's the stuff classics are made of.
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