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South side version of West Side Story

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hard to keep your feet from tapping while watching "West Side Story," which was on the schedule last evening at CineVerse. Here are the notable points of our group discussion:

  • Outstanding choreography by Jerome Robbins and stellar music by Leonard Bernstein; the dancing itself is among the most epic in scope and ambitious ever attempted for a Hollywood musical
  • Daring and energetic camera movement and angles: many high and low camera angles, actors and dancers who sweep toward the camera
  • Fantastic use of color, particular the color red, which seems to signify love and passion and later hatred, violence and death; by the film’s conclusion, almost all other colors except red and death have disappeared
  • Rita Moreno and George Chakris, who both won Oscars for their roles as Puerto Rican lovers, and who steal virtually every scene they’re in
  • A cinematic blend of urban realism and colorful fantasy: some sequences were shot on location in and around grungy New York tenements, while most scenes were shot on sets and reproduced environments artificially
  • Arguably, the love story, based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; here, the impact of that timeless tragedy is lost because the film’s story doesn’t end in both lovers’ deaths. This could feel like a somewhat tacked on Hollywood softened blow
  • In tandem with the romance, the casting of Natalie Wood (who isn’t Puerto Rican, has her singing voice dubbed, and isn’t an outstanding dancer) and Richard Beymer (whose singing voice was also dubbed and who doesn’t project as a very credible gang leader
  • A slower second half, which doesn’t have as many song and dance numbers to help it rise above an otherwise bland dramatic unfolding
  • Dialogue and scenarios that haven’t aged gracefully; this story smacks of sentimentality, corny love and grief exchanges, and occasional overacting 
  • Racial strife, as demonstrated by the gang warfare between the Anglo Jets and the Latino Sharks, the latter group which seems to have to overcome prejudices and challenges not only from their gang rivals but from the police and the economic system; even the attempted rape is motivated more by racial hatred than lust and sexual deviancy.
  • The contemporary ills of society: This film is fairly socially progressive in its exploration of topical societal problems, such as juvenile delinquency, racial discrimination, sexism, and the capacity for sudden violence to erupt in a supposedly civilized world
  • The vicious cycle of violence: violence and hatred are carried on from one person and one generation to another; just consider Maria herself, who must live with the anger and bitterness of Tony’s killing; also, the social and cultural conundrum presented by the film is mutual abandonment: the adolescent gang members want nothing  to do with society because society wants nothing to do with them, which creates a circle of blame and defeat: nobody wins
  • The disintegration and false promise of the American dream: immigrants come to America for greater opportunities and freedoms, but often encounter bigotry, disenfranchisement and disillusionment
  • In this way, the film’s moral is about the responsibility of the society to the individual, and vice versa, and the violence that ensues when each doesn’t assume that responsibility, as intelligently posited by one blogger
  • Entrapment and imprisonment, as exemplified in the motif of characters being in a “cage” (the playground fencing, railing in stairwells, etc) and seemingly unable to escape their fates
  • The Body Snatcher
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • The Haunting
  • The Sound of Music
  • Star Trek:  The Motion Picture
  • Editor on Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons

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