As you grow older, your tastes change. For example, I don’t eat as much candy as I did in the past. Of course, my recent purchases at the dollar store might dispute this claim. But all those bags of candy were not for me! Besides, Easter comes only once a year!
Anyway, when I was much younger, I decreed that I didn’t enjoy movie musicals. Oh, the folly of youth.
This silly, sweeping pronouncement included the 1961 classic, West Side Story. Indeed, I remember disappointing a friend when I announced, with smugness dripping from my voice, that I didn’t care for the movie and all those annoying song and dance routines.
A few years later, I viewed the movie again and, that time, I recognized the film’s brilliance, especially those song and dance routines. To this day, I might start singing “America,” “Jet Song,” “Maria,” or “A Boy Like That” at random moments. I might even add a little dance to the routine if I’m in a good mood.
For those of you unfamiliar with the film, it’s an adaptation of the Broadway musical, which was inspired by Romeo and Juliet. It tells the tale of two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, against the backdrop of the interracial love story of Tony and Maria.
West Side Story is one of my oldest sister’s favorite films, so when Steven Spielberg’s remake was released last year, she said she wanted to see it. Alas, she didn’t make it to the theatre.
The film did make it to my streaming service last week and I invited my sister to a private viewing at my home. We watched the movie this weekend.
When it comes to classic cinema, I’m a traditionalist who generally avoids remakes. After all, why mess with near or absolute perfection? If not for my sister, I’m not sure I would have watched the 2021 version of West Side Story. But I did so with an open mind.
And you know what? It was great.
In some ways, I enjoyed it more than I did the original.
I was happy to see Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Anita in the 1961 version, as Valentina. (Moreno also serves as an executive producer.) Spielberg’s version is faithful to the original stage version and it’s just so vibrant and colorful – even when the colors are drab.
Musicals are usually uplifting. (At least most of my favorite musicals – Grease, Meet Me in St. Louis, and Singin’ in the Rain – have uplifting endings. A fourth film on that list – All That Jazz – is not exactly a laugh fest.)
Although West Side Story contains dark overtones, the aforementioned song and dance routines and vibrant colors can fool you. During one song and dance number, I told my sister that real life would be better if folks broke out into song and started dancing and everyone joined in. Wouldn’t that be grand!
She gave me side eye. After all, she knew what was coming. Like I mentioned earlier, the story is based on Romeo and Juliet. Ergo, almost everyone dies.
This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.
I, too, thought Steven Spielberg’s version was great. I’m glad you pointed out the drab color palette having the vibrancy it does. One of the joys for me of viewing a Spielberg picture in last 30 years is seeing how his cinematographer Janusz Kaminski makes desaturated color (or even black-and-white) photography look so radiant and alive. Considering the glorious Technicolor of the original film, the Kaminski look was a bold choice, and I loved it!
Yes! Radiant and alive! That’s it! Thanks for your comment!