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Found 2 results

  1. My initial introduction to West Side Storywas through the music of the original Broadway stage production of this musical. It came while I was attending day camp out west in the summer of 1962, prior to entering the sixth grade. A girl in the group I was with, who'd just received an LP copy of the original Broadway soundtrack of WSS for her birthday, brought it to camp and played it for the rest of the group. My love of West Side Story , the music, and the story behind WSS took off...instantly. West Side Story-mania was in the air that summer. Kids roamed the hallways, sometimes in groups, snapping their fingers, and the various songs from WSS rang through the bus to and from camp every day of the week, as the kids sang all the songs. It was cool. I missed seeing the film version of West Side Story during the heyday of its popularity, partly due to my relative isolation from most of the other kids, and partly because my parents refused to take my sister and I to see it, at least in part because they didn't think (and my mom still doesn't think) that West Side Story was a kids' movie. Having seen this great, golden oldie but keeper of a Classic movie/musical more times than I'm able or willing to count at this point, the more I think about it, the more I tend to agree with my mom on this point. Since my parents also had an LP copy of the soundtrack of the original Broadway stage version of WSS, I played it on my parents' Hi-Fi whenever I had the opportunity to do so, because I'd come to so love the music and the story of West Side Story itself. I would not get to see the movie until seven years later, as my high school years were coming to a close, and WSS, although there was a big national re-release of it, had passed the heyday of its popularity, freshness and newness. I finally did get to see it for the first time, at around Christmastime of 1968, as a high school Senior, at a now-defunct cinema that was roughly 45 minutes north of Boston, and fell in love with this film the minute I saw it. Little did I, or my family know, that this was the start of my own love affair with the film West Side Story that would last all the way up until the present, much to their amusement, chagrin and resigned acceptance of this particular idiosyncrasy of mine. Now for the real crux of my essay: West Side Story, as everybody knows, began as a famous late-1950's Broadway stage musical, which played in NYC's Winter Garden for roughly two years before embarking on a national tour, and then an international tour, as well, becoming a hit national and internationally, as well. The concept of West Side Story had actually been started around WWII, when the conflict between Jews and Catholics here in the United States was still fresh. The two gangs were to be Jewish and Irish/Italian Catholic, while Maria was to be Jewish and Tony and Irish/Italian Catholic. There were also afew name changes to this musical along the way as well; It was originally named Gangway, then East Side Story, and, finally, West Side Story. Based on Shakespeare's famous play, Romeo and Juliet, the very concept of West Side Story didn't get really get up off the ground until well after WWII, when the conflict between Jews and Catholics here in the United States was not nearly as new and fresh as it had previously been. The large influx of Puerto Ricans into NYC and the Continental United States generally was now the catalyst of conflict, which was between the PR's and the White European Ethnic Americans. Tony was a Polish-American and a former White European Ethnic American Jets leader, while Maria, who became Tony's love interest, was the sister of the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Shark gangleader, Bernardo. After Walter Mirisch bought the rights to the movie version, West Side Story not only became a big hit on stage, both nationally and worldwide, but it became a big hit as a spectacular film, which won ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, after its initial release in late October 1961. Since I was still a teenager in high school the first time that I saw the movie West Side Story, I was able to identify with the Jets, the Sharks and their girls, regarding kids being kids and so on. When I got to be a little older, however, and began watching West Side Story every time it came around to an independent, repertory movie theatre, however, I still loved and appreciated this film, although I had a somewhat different viewpoint of it than I had as a high school kid. I was able to appreciate West Side Story as a dynamic work of art and cinematic technology, as well as the intense scenery, the brilliant Bernstein musical store, the wonderfully-choreographed dancing by the late Jerome Robbins, and the very story behind it, as well as everything else. With the exception of Richard Beymer (who I've always regarded as sort of a weak, lacklustre Tony), I thought that WSS had a very strong cast, and was a very strong film overall. West Side Story, to me, carries a certain message; It succinctly points out the destructive consequences of racial/ethnic prejudice, and the gratuitous violence that often ensues as a result, but there's also a detectable ray of hope in the end, when several Jets and Sharks come together to carry Tony's body off after he was shot to death by Chino in retaliation for Tony's having stabbed Bernardo to death. The scene where Maria comes between the Jets and Sharks as they seem ready to clash once more, seems to have been the catalyst for that ray of hope to have arrived, or perhaps it would've arrived anyway. No one knows. Truthfully, I'm a devout fan of the film West Side Story (it's my all time favorite movie, hands down!), who's also seen several very good stage productions of this musical, including the newer, more up to date Broadway stage revival of West Side Story, which, although was largely enjoyable, I looked at with a harder, more critical eye than my sister in law and my then 8-year-niece, neither of whom had ever seen WSS on stage before, The film West Side Story is a film that I never get tired of seeing over and over again, whether it be in a real movie theatre, on a great big, wide screen with the lights down low, or on TV, and i've seen it more times than I'm able and willing to count, at this point. Regardless of how many people claim that seeing it on a great home theatre system on TV is fantastic, absolutely nothing beats seeing West Side Story in a real movie theatre. In fact, WSS cries for a great big, wide movie theatre screen. Although West Side Story is a strong movie overall (which is why I have a tough time picking out favorite characters and/or scenes and songs from it), the Dance at the Gym, The prologue/Jets song, Cool, America, the pre-Rumble quartet and the Rumble itself, as well as Ofcr Krupke, are pillar scenes in this great classic movie-musical. Regarding the cast, they're all strong, imho. Not long ago, however, I learned something about the relationship between Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer off-screen that made me more willing to give Richard Beymer the benefit of the doubt. Natalie Wood had a lot of hostility and resentment towards Richard Beymer (she was dating Warren Beatty at the time), and it showed, plus Richard Beyner was clearly pained by it. Natalie Wood had, in fact, tried to get Richard Beymer kicked off the set on several occasions, as well, although they made up a number of years later, when they met in a California restaurant. I believe that had Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer gotten along better during the filming of West Side Story, that Richard Beymer might've played a much stronger role as Tony, despite the way the original script both on stage and for screen, had been written. Since West Side Story was filmed in NYC's Hell's Kitchen, where Lincoln Center now stands, the crew members and cast alike were regularly harassed by street toughs, who showered rocks and bottles, etc., from the rooftops at them. The crew ended up hiring out an actual street gang for security and protection during the filming. Oh, the irony in it..especially since West Side Story, after all, is about two warring NYC street gangs, as well as love and romance that develops admidst that conflict, only to go up in smoke due to the gangs' hatred for each other. I have attended virtually every screening of West Side Story in our area (the one exception being in mid-March of 2001, when an afternoon screening of WSS conflicted directly with my late dad's memorial, so I didn't go that afternoon!), which have been well-attended. Boston-area audiences, while more reserved than NY audiences, enjoy it about as much as New Yorkers, and West Side Story is especially wonderful in a real movie theatre, on a great big, wide screen, with the lights down low, and with a slew of other people whether one knows them or not. I can't wait for the next screening of West Side Story, which I've even made road trips to the opposite end of the Bay State as well as to neighboring states to see, over the years. I attended the 40th year anniversary screening of WSS at NYC's Radio City Music hall with friends, a special event of the one-night 50th-year anniversary re-release of West Side Story, and a number of other screenings of WSS in our area. West Side Story is a hard, hard film for me to resist, and I' always look forward to the next movie theatre screening, especially after it's been aired on TV, hoping it will come in the near future.
  2. The 1961 film version of West Side Story is a good, old-fashioned and old-styled movie that cries to be introduced to today's younger generation(s), rather than hashing out a re-make. There's no reason why a great, golden oldie-but-keeper of a classic film like West Side Story should have a re-make. It is what it is--a great classic, which should be left alone. There are different opinions on the film West Side Story, ranging from the opinions that it's really a great flick (which it is!), to the opinions that it's too sanitized, too formulated, too mawkish and maudlin, too unrealistic, and, for some people who either work in (i. e. people in the helping professions, such as mental health counselors, social workers, etc.), and/or reside in low-income areas where gang activity, crime and racial/ethnic tensions either are, or have been a problem.), West Side Story, either on film or on stage, hits too close to home. Some people, on the other hand, have the opinion that West Side Story was primarily made for middle and upper-class whites who reside in the suburbs and wish to feel that they're involved being multi-cultural. Yet, I've also found that there are plenty of people, both white and non-white, who reside in both the city and the suburbs, also like West Side Story as a film a great deal, as well. As I've pointed out on a number of posts of mine, I'm a devout fan of the film West Side Story. It's my all time favorite film, hands down, and I very rarely miss a screening of it, either in one of the two independent, non-profit repertory movie theatres in my area, or ana airing on the TCM (Turner Classic Movie) Channel, on TV. West Side Story also harkens back to a more exuberant, and more hopeful time, when almost anything was considered possible. Hollywood's creativity had really begun to approach its peak, and it's long on style and substance, a quality that is sorely lacking in many, if not most of today's movies. Unlike many, if not most of today's movies, West Side Story has a real story behind it, which, while fiction, is based on certain realities: i. e. urban gang warfare, racial/ethnic tensions, and people crossing over the racial/ethnic barriers to date, fall in love, and even marry. So what if the story behind West Side Story is based on the famous Shakespeare play, Romeo & Juliet? It makes no difference to me! I know that in real life gangs don't go dancing through the city streets, but the other above-mentioned things do happen. Some people claim that it's a modern-day or a hip version of Romeo & Juliet I'm not so sure that I'd call it that, but it's to each their own. While there are definitely similarities between West Side Story and Romeo & Juliet, there are some important differences, as well. The fact that Riff, Tony and Bernardo go down for the final count, but that Maria, as well as most of the other Jets and Sharks survive in the end, is a very important difference, not to mention the fact that West Side Story, unlike Romeo & Juliet, takes place here on United States soil, in the slums of 1950's-1960's New York City's Upper West Side. Some people consider West Side Story an actual re-make of Romeo & Juliet, but I, personally, would not go so far as to call it that. Saying that one is based on the other is sufficient. A re-make of the film West Side Story, as I've pointed out, would invariably result in one of two things: a) A campier, cheaper, and junkier version of the original film ' A more hip-hop, rap-filled, meth-filled movie-musical with the Bloods and a Latin version of the Crips in conflict, with both gangs shooting at each other, rather than using switch-blade knives and/or fisticuffs. Neither of these versions would make any sense, because all the beauty of West Side Story in either instance, would be totally taken out of it. West Side Story is a good, old-fashioned, old-style movie (Note that I'm saying this in a positive, and not a negative way!) that carries a great (albeit a somewhat double-edged) message: That racial, ethnic and cultural hatreds get people nowhere, and all too often result in gratuitous violence, or worse, even murder, but that intergroup reconciliation, as difficult as it can be, and often enough is, still has the possibility of occurring. Moreover, in West Side Story, there's a strong message that people must be held accountable for their actions and behaviors, and that people's actions clearly have consequences. Equally important is the way in which the story behind West Side Story is told, not only through dance and music, but, in the film version, the fact that it's such a theatrical work of art. Together, all of the factors above combined make West Side Story the dynamic keeper of a classic film that it is, which is one great reason that it is meant to be viewed on a great big, wide screen, in a real movie theatre, with the lights down low, and sharing the experience with a whole bunch of other people, whether one knows them or not. West Side Story is wholesomely old-fashioned and old-styled, and it's a film that I personally, would never, ever want to be any other way. Introducing this great golden oldie-but-keeper of a classic film to today's younger generation(s) would be the best way for them to get to know West Side Story and other great classic films, and to possibly help unite the older generations and the younger generations together.

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