I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Movie Musical Challenge: West Side Story

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
In Movie Musical Challenge, I'm watching all 25 picks for AFI's Greatest musicals starting from the bottom.  Number 2 is the 1961 film West Side Story starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer.

I tried to watch West Side Story once upon a time, and it did not go well.  I gave up when it got to the school dance scene.  For some reason, I was just so bored.  But now, with watching it for Movie Musical Challenge, I don't know if it's because I had to watch it, or because I have more of an appreciation for movie musicals having watched the previous 23 films on the list - but I watched the whole thing, and found it engrossing!  It's a complete turnaround for me.

As I'm sure most people know, the story is a take on Romeo and Juliet, and with that, I was interested in seeing the parallels, and in how they would adapt certain things.  Especially Juliet's "death".  I mean Maria's.  For such a different setting and character background, the story was very true to Shakespeare's and I really appreciated how well written this musical is.  It's very wordy, and the lyrics are beautiful.

The film is remarkable in other ways too.  The style is very unique to the story - with the choreography being so integral to the look and feel, and the aesthetic of the set is sometimes true to the setting of New York City, but sometimes feels very stagey and unrealistic.  And there's this flashing of red at times that is a little disconcerting.  There is also an interesting blend of dance styles and music genres to makes this film especially striking.

I do have to say that I don't love this film.  It's very well done, it has an excellent score, and a dynamic plot - but I just can't get over how sad it all is, and how pointless.  But the sadder thing perhaps, is just how much I can understand why the characters acted the way they did, and how hard it was for them to change things, and change their lives.  The ending was so tragic, and I feel like I can never love this film because it is so utterly heartbreaking.  However, for my favorite scene in the movie, it is probably the "America" song scene, but my favorite song is "Somewhere."

The actors are amazing, and everything just works with this musical.  There is also a very timely, and still relatable theme of cultural prejudice and racism, that was kind of surprising to see, but only because it felt so contemporary, and it's chilling to see how much hasn't changed about that.  The way the police officers favored the white gang was particularly disturbing.  Perhaps there are some numbers that I wouldn't mind if the story dropped, but other than that I really can't fault this movie.  I can definitely understand why it's so close to the top.

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