West Side Story (the movie) and the 15th Anniversary of 9./11:
The year 2001 was a rather strange and sad year, overall. Movies were at an all time low, and, for me and my family, my dad had been bed-ridden with a serious illness that eventually took him over and killed him; He died from his illness in late January of 2001. An autopsy, the results of which came back several months later, revealed a rare but-then-always fatal form of encephalitis known as Limbic Encephalitis. Life that year was saddened for all of us, due to the passing of a warm-hearted, wonderful father, friend, great conversationalist, as well as someone who lived and loved life to the fullest, and stuck with everybody through thick and thin, despite getting assignments all over the country, as a famous free-lance photo journalist.
September 11th, 2001, started as an ordinary day for me. When I heard about the airplanes hitting the WTC Towers, thereby causing them to collapse in a mass of smoke and fire, at first, I thought it might be a hoax, but when I saw the grisly scenes on television, I knew otherwise. It was a rather freaky thing to see!
Although an old friend of mine who lives up in New Hampshire and I had planned to go to downtown Boston on the following Saturday, she called to beg off, due to being frightened and worried, but I manage to talk her into coming, which she did. She, her oldest daughter, and I met in Downtown Boston, where we went to the MFA (Museum of Fine Arts) to see an exhibit, walked around, and then had lunch in Boston's North End. It was a perfect September day, with bright sunshine, and crisp air...perfect for walking around the city, and my friend and her daughter were both glad that I'd talked them into coming.
Now for the real crux of my essay:
In mid-August of 2001, roughly a month before 9/11, I received a small ad in the mail about a special upcoming 40th Anniversary screening of the film West Side Story, at 7:00, on Saturday, October 6th, at NYC's renowned Radio City Music Hall. I had just arrived home from an annual eye-dilation examination when I received a phone call from some old (now-deceased) friends of mine who'd lived in Boston but moved own to NYC years ago, and knew that West Side Story was (and still is!) my all time favorite movie. When they asked if I wanted them to get some tickets to attend the upcoming screening of West Side Story at Radio City Music Hall, I immediately said yes. After a little bit of a snafu, the tickets for the special West Side Story event were obtained.
Saturday, October 6th, 2001 dawned bright and sunny, with somewhat crisp early autumn air. Leaving Somerville shortly before seven that morning, I drove down to the Big Apple, arriving at around noontime. My cousin, who then lived in a condominium on the Upper West Side, had graciously allowed me to stay overnight in her condo, while she and her husband went to upstate New York for that weekend. We met, embraced, hung out and talked for afew hours, and walked around in the lovely nearby Tryon Park. Afew hours later, my cousin and her husband departed for upstate New York, and I took a livery cab down to my old friends' apartment building down on Riverside Drive, where we met, and took a bus to Radio City Hall.
There was already a line of people waiting to get into RCMH for the special West Side Story screening, which my friends were just as excited about as I was. After a brief look in my pocketbook by a security person (as everybody else had to undergo), we took our seats in the gigantic auditorium. There were throngs of people, and even the press was there to report on the big event of the night. After a spate of rather long-winded speeches from (the late) Robert Wise, as well as members of the cast/crew who'd been able to make it to this event, the movie started. What a Saturday night out that was! Radio City Music Hall was packed with an exuberant, friendly crowd, and there was much applause and finger-snapping from the audience at the end of each song/scene from West Side Story.
The film West Side Story, when shown on a great big, wide movie theatre screen, takes on a magical, almost 3-dimensional quality. The scenery appears more expansive, and one can see all of everything. The brilliantly intense Bernstein Musical Score and the beautifully-choreographed dancing by the late Jerome Robbins, as well as the richly-colored costumes and cinematography all seem even more intense and more emphatic when this special classic is played on a great big, wide movie theatre screen, with the lights down low, as well.
From the warring Jets and Sharks to the romancing Tony and Maria, to the bitter, bigoted Lt. Schrank, from Doc the Candy Store owner to Anita and Bernardo, and Ofcr Krupke, the various characters of West Side Story all seem to move much more fluidly and freely, and in a much wider, more open space. Moreover, seeing this great classic on a great big, wide screen enables one to see and appreciate the film West Side Story for the great work of art that it really and truly is. The fact that West Side Story was preserved as a larger-than-life piece of theatre when it was transferred from stage to screen also gave it its strength, and helped make it the dynamic package that it really is. I took a cab back to my cousin's condominium, where I was staying for the night, dropping my friends off, as well. It had been a wonderful evening. The fact that five or six thousand people showed up at Radio City Music Hall that night was proof that people could still get together for a spectacular event, despite the freaky, horrific events of 9/11 that occurred less than a month before.
I left for home on Sunday afternoon, which also dawned bright and sunny. It had been a wonderful weekend. The change in scenery, along with seeing old friends and relatives, as well as a special movie had given me a badly-needed lift after a sad, strange and rough year. My dad would've wanted me to do that.