Saturday, December 15, 2012
#51 - West Side Story (1961)
I can almost get on board with West Side Story as a musical. I used to rail against the genre as being too unrealistic and ridiculous but I've since come around to appreciate a select few musicals that are remarkable in some way. This movie has some interesting stuff going for it too. I was thoroughly entertained by the gang fight in the opening scene, with the Jets and the Sharks half attacking, and half dancing. It's wonderfully choreographed, but I'm not sure I was supposed to be laughing through the whole thing. Then again, I'm not sure I was meant to see it as intense and dramatic either. In any case, it was a definite high point of the film for me.
In addition, I like looking at West Side Story as an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. At first, it seems to almost slavishly follow Shakespeare's structure, but there are some fascinating changes made. These range from little things like making Tybalt Juliet's brother instead of her cousin, to major changes in the ending. I find it really interesting that Juliet (Maria) survives in the end. Romeo (Tony) is murdered rather than committing suicide over the thought of Maria's death, and then he actually dies in Maria's arms and the film ends. I like this choice a lot because the play itself works with a sense of inevitability by having a prologue that tells us Romeo and Juliet are going to kill themselves. By having a film so blatantly based on the play, it seems to have the same tragic inevitability, but the small changes in the end are wonderfully surprising to the audience.
I think I'd like this movie a lot more if it weren't a musical. Mostly because it doesn't have one of the major elements I need to enjoy a musical: good music. I really didn't find the soundtrack for West Side Story fun or catchy or interesting at all, and would have preferred it wasn't a musical even if that meant losing the cool dance fight of the beginning. On top of the music not being good, a lot of the songs felt forced in, having the story written around them. The most glaring example of this is the song comparing America to Puerto Rico up on the Capulets' rooftop. It felt very inorganic to me even though the song itself was probably one of the less objectionable ones in the film.
DVDs Left to Buy: 12
Next Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring