Saturday, November 12, 2011

Movie Milestones: 50 Years of West Side Story

I have a confession to make. I'm a Gleek. I have been a huge fan of the show since the first episode. The comedy is witty and smart, the storylines are intelligent and moving, and the music is absolutely amazing. Over the last few weeks, McKinley High's Glee club has been preparing for the school production of West Side Story. This all culminated in this week's episode when the preparation paid off in a wonderful performance. It was great to see this classic show brought back into contemporary consciousness for the first time in awhile. It has been 50 years since this Broadway musical was brought to the big screen by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. In seeing the story and music appear on Glee, it made me remember how some themes will always be relevant and therefore some stories like West Side Story will always be relevant.
When the film was first released, this was actually a very contemporary movie. Being set in the 1950's and only being on Broadway for less than 5 years, West Side Story the movie was very much a part of contemporary culture even if it was an age old story. This story was originally told by William Shakespeare in a little play called Romeo and Juliet. So you could say West Side Story was the original in what has become a trend in today's Hollywood: modernizing a classic story to appeal to today's culture. This retelling sets up a rivalry between two gangs: the Jets and the Sharks. The Jets are a group of local New York kids, while the Sharks are Puerto Rican immigrants. In the midst of their rivalry, a forbidden love affair blossoms between Tony of the Jets and Maria, the sister of the leader of the Sharks. Through song and ballet, this love story plays itself out amid the fierce rivalry that tries to separate them.
Best Scene: The dance scene. The first extended interaction between the two gangs we see in the film is a dance that both groups attend. The supervisor of the dance tries to get the two groups to get along and "play nice" just so everyone can have a good time. He tries to mix up the group to do this, but what follows is a carefully choreographed dance sequence as you see the Jets and Sharks appear to intermingle but also take a stance against the other group at the same time. In a film that is filled with somewhat corny dance sequences, this scene shows it work to perfection. The scene then ends with the first meeting of Tony and Maria which sets the stage for the rest of the film. You can hear the song now . . . "I just met a girl named Maria."
Best Song: Since we are dealing with a musical, I am replacing the "Best Line" segment with a more appropriate "Best Song" category. Say what you want about some of the choreography in West Side Story, the music is as timeless as you get. Of all the classics in this movie, my favorite would have to be "Somewhere." Tony and Maria are watching their worlds fall apart around them, and all they can believe in is each other. They think about the circumstances that are forcing them apart, and this song comes out as they try to imagine a time where they could be allowed to be together. "There's a place for us, somewhere a place for us." "Some day, somewhere, we'll find a new way of living. We'll find a way of forgiving." It's a song full of so much emotion. It comes across almost as a prayer that hopefully someday this will happen for them. This is just one of the many beautiful songs.
Most Iconic Moment: The last shot of the film. Knowing that this is based on Romeo and Juliet, the ending is inevitable. As soon as Tony sees Maria, he is gunned down by a rival gang member. Maria tries to remind him of their prayer as he slips away. We are then left with Maria holding Tony under the one and only street light with the Jets and Sharks both looking on realizing what their rivalry had brought about. It is such a beautiful picture. They don't make them quite like that anymore.
The Time Tester: As I mentioned before, this is a timeless story that continues to remain relevant today. There are hints of it in films like Brokeback Mountain: two people in a relationship they are told they should not be in. It helps when you start with a story that had already lasted several hundred years before they adapted it. The music has also stood the test of time. There are many people who have never seen West Side Story but know the music. Everyone has heard some form of "Somewhere" or "Maria" or "I Feel Pretty." Personally, I can't hear "I Feel Pretty" without seeing Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson singing it to each other in Anger Management.
The Lasting Impact: Looking back on West Side Story after 50 years, there is no doubt that this is one of the most loved of the classic musicals. It won 10 Oscars including Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress. Looking back on it now, it is a bit corny as most musicals of that era are. However, the story and music behind the film make this a timeless classic that can still be watched and appreciated by all, even all us Gleeks that have enjoyed experiencing the magic of West Side Story during the episodes the last few weeks.

1 comment:

  1. West Side Story.....aaaaahhhh, yes! This is the classic that never grows old, and still shines 50 years later! It's my all time favorite movie, hands down, and I never get tired of seeing this great golden oldie but keeper of a classic film.