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  1. 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.
  2. 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. TAGS: 9/11., radio city music hall, west side story (1961 film)
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