Saturday, November 19, 2011

West Side Story

In a reimagining of Romeo and Juliet transplanted to Manhattan, the Jets and the Sharks, two rival street gangs battle for a piece of small but hallowed turf. As Riff, the leader of the Euro bred Jets calls in his best friend/ex-gang member Tony to broker a war council with the Puerto Rican Sharks, Tony falls in love with the rival gang members sister Maria, and the two act out the brief and tragic love affair. Only a scarce few movies can capture that special place in your heart, ones which you adored as a child, and for which the admiration only grows with each successive revisit. "West Side Story", which turns 50 this year, is the film which I have admired the longest and my fondest for it grew once more watching it recently in its theatrical reissue. Like the greatest films, "WSS" works on many different levels: it opens with the street gangs, the Jets comprised of 50s greaser types and the Sharks made up of Hispanic stereotypes. While I don't think these units are to be taken as literal gangs, their interactions amongst each other are of great enjoyment. Then there is the universally acclaimed Jerome Robbins cinematography, with its gracefully wild and synchronized movement. The Leonard Bernstein songs, with lyrics from Stephen Sondheim, are as memorable as any musicals. The romance between Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer is touching as well (though some claim it lacks allure). The supporting performances are wonderful as well including Russ Tamblyn as Riff and the Academy Award winning work of George Chakiris as the fiery Bernarnrdo and Rita Moreno as his equally conflagrant girlfriend Anita. The direction of Robert Wise, who shared the credit with Robbins, is superb as is the Ernest Lehman script based on Arthur Laurents's stage play. "West Side Story" is a glorious cinematic achievement that is waiting to be discovered by a new generation of film goers.