Thursday, May 5, 2016

West Side Story (1961)


As a kid I hated musicals. I hated West Side Story in particular. Why is there an overture? Why are they dancing? None of this is realistic! I loved The King and I when we watched it over the course of several rainy recesses, but that's Siam, in the distant past! For all I knew it was a documentary. West Side Story was about gangs! I saw gangs all the time on the evening news. Gangs don't dance. Gangs certainly don't snap. Where was the grit? Sure the songs were catchy, but it wasn't realistic!

It wasn't until many years later that I came to appreciate how sometimes, emotional realism can trump visual realism. To an outsider the Jets and Sharks might seem like a bunch of punk kids making the neighborhood a less safe place to live. But to them, the few city blocks which comprise their turf is a kingdom. To them it is epic. And that is precisely what the entire team behind West Side Story got right. The colors,  sets, costumes and camera moves were all perfectly matched to the romanticized way in which these kids see their world. Everything is life or death and there is only Tonight. And damn if it isn't gorgeous.

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