Thursday, June 30, 2011
Apropos of nothing much, I'm musing about WEST SIDE STORY, the movie.
I was practising 'embedding' a video in my post and I sort of got carried away. But then the whole copy and paste thing didn't work for me, so I'll just include links like I've always done. My daughter says there are tutorials. Okay. When I'm in a tutorial mood, I'll watch a tutorial.
I first saw WEST SIDE STORY in a fancy movie theater in Times Square a million years ago - well, okay in 1961. At that time you could reserve tickets (same as now I suppose) though I can't remember how that worked. I think we picked them up at the box office. Anyway, we all felt very grown up going to what was publicized as a Big Deal Opening of a Big Deal Motion Picture. Those were the days when going to a movie in Times Square and NOT seeing a Double Feature, was a really, REALLY BIG DEAL (To quote Ed Sullivan.) Plus the whole idea that movies were now costing way more than 25 cents to see, was kind of mind-boggling.
But, time passes: One of my biggest disappointments was watching WEST SIDE STORY years later and seeing how badly it had aged. Oh, not the music, Leonard Bernstein was too much of a genuis for that. But his genius didn't extend to saving a saggy, old fashioned, painfully dated screenplay. The dancing is still glorious of course so when I watch it I just fast forward to the dancing and ignore the rest of this schmaltzy re-telling of Romeo and Juliet. (Though I hear the B'way revivals still work. Maybe it's just a viewing it 'live' kind of thing.) I wish I could have seen the recent revival in which the Puerto Rican gang members and their girlfriends spoke the dialogue in Spanish.
Anyway, the things that still work for me are:
1) The film's multi-colored overture.
Listen to it here:
2) The closing credits by Saul Bass - those chalk graffitti scribbles were genius - pure genius.
3) Rita Moreno. She is timeless.
4) George Chakiris. Not exactly Puerto Rican, but because he was SO incredibly good looking and such a magnificent dancer, he is forgiven anything.
Both got Oscars that year, both deserved them.
5) The superb music by Bernstein and dance numbers by Jerome Robbins.
I mean, you watch this 'America' routine and you absolutely have to smile. Still.
I chose this number because we're coming up on Fourth of July and while not exactly appropriate, I thought - why not?
American Dance Number.
Okay, now for the ugly part: The two main things that don't work, didn't work and never WILL WORK for me:
Richard Beymer as Tony. Never, never, NEVER in a million years will I understand this casting decision. It isn't even as if he were a great dancer or great singer or whatnot. AND HE HAD NO SCREEN PRESENCE!!! He was a klutz!
Take deep breaths, Yvette.
Natalie Wood as Maria. Oh well, at least she was beautiful. But.What? They couldn't find a beautiful enough singer? (Marni Nixon did the voice dubbing.) A beautiful enough Latin singer would have been asking for the moon, I know.
Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence originated the parts on Broadway - would it have been too much of a leap to have them play the parts onscreen?
Obviously I still have some unresolved issues with this movie. HA!
Now watch the great Saul Bass end credits. Was this man a visual genius or what?