Thursday, March 6, 2008
West Side Story
West Side Story; musical-drama, USA, 1961; D: Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins, S: Richard Beymer, Natalie Wood, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland, Ned Glass
The West Side neighborhood. Two gangs constantly clash on the streets; the Jets, whose members are Americans, and Sharks, whose members are resigned immigrants from Puerto Rico. Additional problems are created by a cop who is openly against the Sharks. The founder of the Jets is Tony, but he is not interested in them anymore and is now working as an assistant in a cafe. Due to an agreement, he appears on the big dance in the hall and falls in love with Maria, a member of the Sharks, but she gets taken away by her brother Fernando. Tony and Maria start a secret relationship and plan to get married. When Tony tries to stop a fight between the gangs, he fails and out of rage kills Fernando with a knife. Some Shark member then kills Tony, thus Maria holds his dead body.
Unlike overrated musicals like "Gigi" and "My Fair Lady", "West Side Story" didn't lose its charm with the passage of time and can be rightfully regarded as an excellent classic. It won 10 Oscars (including best picture and director) and 3 Golden Globes (best motion picture - musical or comedy, supporting actor and actress Rita Moreno and George Chakiris) and still impresses with its modern interpretation of "Romeo and Juliet" filled with brilliant details and good rhythm set in the old fashioned style of the 60s. Many will be surprised by the ultra-disciplined, 5 minute long (!) opening shot that just shows static vertical lines with various colors set in the background - but then the frame turns out to be a reflection of the buildings of New York. An energetic agility is given by many dancing scenes, like when the gangs members are making a pirouette while they are chasing one guy, but one of the best ones is the excellent song sang by Puerto Rican girls in order to show just how much they love America. Natalie Wood is great in the leading role of Maria, a feisty girl who demands that her cleavage should be deeper by an inch, but the most beautiful scene is definitely the one set during the dance in the hall, where all of the characters become "blurred" except her and Tony - who look at each other and fall in love. Even though the film is slightly overtstretched and sometimes wooden, it is a very skilfully made romance that tackles the issue of discrimination and still manages to seem relaxed and natural.