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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.
I’m back….with another diary about my all time favorite movie, West Side Story. As I have written on here before, West Side Story is a film that I never get tired of seeing over and over and over again. This diary is about a whole bunch of reasons why. Some of it will undoubtedly be familiar to all of you, and some of it will not. Afew days ago, on a forum called West Side Story/Live Journal, I noticed a post about the best romance films from the 1940’s through the 1960’s. Along with My Fair Lady, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and a whole bunch of other films, some of which I’d heard of and others I hadn’t, I was happy to see that West Side Story was also included in this youtube video/list. As I looked at the list, realizing that most of the films that were listed and posted about on this particular youtube video, I came to realize that, although West Side Story was included as one of the best romance films of all times on this list, something else occurred to me: What makes West Side Story such a beautiful and strong film is the fact that it’s a combination of a number of things. Whatever anybody may think of the romance between the ex-Jet leader/founder, Tony, and Maria (who are played by Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood), the younger sister of the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Shark gang leader, Bernardo, the romance between Tony and Maria is an integral and important part of the very story behind West Side Story. While West Side Story is about Tony and Maria’s romance, which eventually goes up in smoke due to the hatred and conflict between the warring Jets and Sharks, West Side Story is also about a number of other things, as well. West Side Story takes place in a rough and run-down urban area, on the West Side of 1950’s-1960’s Manhattan, in the United States’ largest city: New York. West Side Story is also about urban gang warfare, racial and ethnic tensions and hostilities, and conflict with the law, as well, as well as love and romance between two people of different racial/ethnic/cultural groups, all of which occur in real life, throughout the United States and throughout the world, generally. West Side Story is also about rebellion and forbidden love, as well as tribal friendship and loyalties. It’s also about how our society has left groups of have-nots to compete with the crumbs that have been left to them by our society and our system, which is something that the Jets’ and Sharks’ competition for a small piece of turf is clearly indicative of, if one gets the drift. West Side Story is also about the cruelty and hatred that the Jets and Sharks not only inflict upon each other, but about the cruelty and hatred allocated to both gangs by law enforcement, but there are also very kindly and caring adults (such as Doc, the candy store owner, and Glad-Hand, the social worker, at the Gym), who try to help them, and steer them in a better direction. If West Side Story is about all of the above-mentioned things, it’s about exuberance, arrogance, love of dance, and fun, as well, which are all indicated in the Dance at the Gym and the America scenes. The Officer Krupke scene also indicates the humor (albeit rather wry) in WSS, as well. West Side Story is also about rebellion in the form of women/girls attempting to break away from the old, traditional values. Maria, Anita and Anybodys are the strongest women in West Side Story, for that particular reason. Maria rebels and falls in love with Tony, and Tony by falling in love with Maria. Anita, who clearly disapproves at first, unlike Bernardo, comes around to accepting Maria and Tony’s love, albeit grudgingly. Anybodys is persistent in gaining acceptance by the Jets as an equal and one of the gang, proving her toughness, resourcefulness, and her ability to take care of herself, and she finally does gain acceptance by the Jets. The Rumble scene in West Side Story is the climax, where tensions ultimately explode, thus resulting in the deaths of Riff, Bernardo and Tony, and yet the Cool scene is the anti-climax, where hot blood is cooled by Ice, who takes over the Jet gang leadership after Riff’s death during the Rumble, after both the Jets and Sharks flee the police and go into hiding. Yet, while West Side Story is about the harsher side of life in a run-down, rough urban area, there are gentler aspects, as well, such as the short-lived romance between Tony and Maria, the way both the Jets and Sharks romanced with their girls, and the fact that “Glad Hand” and Doc were gently trying to steer both gangs in a better direction. West Side Story is also about possible redemption between people through intergroup reconciliation, which is strongly indicated by the fact that several Sharks and several Jets come together to carry Tony’s body off after he’d been shot to death, partly due to jealousy on the part of Bernardo’s friend, Chino, also a Shark gang member, and partly due to retaliation for Tony’s having stabbed Bernardo to death in retaliation for his having stabbed his (Tony’s) old buddy, Riff to death during the Rumble. All told, West Side Story is a story that is greatly emphasized and told in the form of beautifully-choreographed dancing by the late Jerome Robbins, fabulous cinematography by Daniel Fapp and others, great scenery design as well as some local city streets filming on Manhattan’s West Side, and a brilliantly intense Leonard Bernstein musical score, as well as Stephen Sondheim’s great lyrics. All told, just the right people were chosen for the cast of this great, golden oldie-but-keeper of a classic film. I also forgot to say that Officer Krupke and Lt. Schrank also epitomized the cruelty that was shown to both the Jets and Sharks in the form of hatred and insults to their ethnic and/or familial backgrounds, as well. West Side Story, as a musical, for the reasons that I mentioned above, is one of the very rare musicals that is beautifully successful on screen, as well as on stage. The great colors that are used in this film, especially the use of a lot of red, indicate much of the passions that are ignited in this film, also.
West Side Story, which has been my all time favorite film, hands down, since having seen it for the very first time, at around Christmastime of 1968, during a big national re-release of this film, when I was a high school Senior, at a now-defunct cinema north of where my siblings & I grew up. Little did I, my friends or family know that my very first viewing of the film West Side Story would begin a love affair with this great classic film that would last all the way through the present! Not only did I fall in love with the film West Side Story instantly, but, since I was still a teenager in high school when I first saw this movie, I identified with the Jets, the Sharks, and their girls, regarding kids being kids and so on, but when I got a little older and began seeing it in the (mostly now-defunct) independent repertory movie theatres in and around Boston, I began to appreciate not only the very story, the music, the dancing, and the overall cast, but I began to appreciate West Side Story for the grand work of art that it really and truly is. In addition to the music, the dancing, the richly-colored costumes and cinematography and cinematographical technique, and the story behind this great film, I have noticed that one of the very strengths of the film version of West Side Story is that when it was transferred from stage to screen, it was kept as a larger-than-life-sized piece of theatre. Since parts of WSS were filmed in the streets of NYC's East and West Side, as well as streets of downtown Los Angeles, and other parts of it were filmed on a huge sound-stage, this film retained much of its theatrical quality even after being transferred to the screen. Sure, seeing the movie West Side Story on TV or an elaborate home-theatre system is enjoyable, but, regardless of how wonderful people regard elaborate, expensive home-theatre systems, absolutely nothing beats seeing West Side Story on a great big, wide screen, in a real movie theatre, with the lights down low, and sharing the whole experience with a bunch of other people, whether one knows them or not. Movie theatres also serve as temporary communities, where people of almost all ages, and all walks of life, can get together to share wonderful experiences like this. From the warring Jets and Sharks to the romancing Tony and Maria to the bitter, bigoted and cynical Lt. Schrank and his partner, the quieter, but equally cynical Ofcr Krupke, and Doc, the Candy Store owner, who wishes to help steer the kids in a better direction, the various characters in West Side Story seem to move much more fluidly and freely, in a much wider, more open space. The Jets, the Sharks and their girls all seem much more exuberant, as well. The scenery, too, is more expansive, and one can see all of everything. A new intensity is brought to an already brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical score, and the overall settings that are uncannily designed (and created) to look like rough and rundown areas of a big city. All told, the film West Side Story seems to take on a magical, almost 3-dimensional quality to it when viewed as it's truly meant to be viewed; on a great big, wide movie theatre screen! The theatrical quality and the richly colored costumes and cinematography, as well as the movements of the characters in the film West Side Story all seem to come much more fully alive. Even Richard Beymer's Tony (whom I've always considered somewhat lackluster), seems to become more vital and alive on a great big, wide movie theatre screen. The dancing in West Side Story, ever beautifully amazing to begin with, seems even more vital, exuberant and alive on a great big, wide movie theatre screen, also. The various emotions, from exuberance, to arrogant insolence and cockiness, to humor (West Side Story definitely does have parts that make me smile and even laugh out loud. as well as put me on the edge of my seat, and even to mist up a bit.) to toughness, to the Rumble, from death to possible intergroup reconciliation, also seem very much emphasized when West Side Story is shown on a big, wide movie theatre screen. Since West Side Story is a film that goes from fairly light and exuberant to dark and heavy, and back to a somewhat lighter emotion (a hint of intergroup reconciliation, when several surviving Jets and Sharks come together to carry Tony's body off after he's been shot and killed by Chino, in retaliation for Tony's having stabbed Bernardo, who'd been stabbed by Tony in retaliation for Bernardo's having stabbed his long-time buddy, Riff, this is yet another reason why West Side Story must be viewed on a great big wide screen, in a real movie theatre, with the lights down low to really reap the benefits of seeing this film as the true work of art that it really is.