West Side Story

Sixty years ago, the movie West Side Story won 10 Academy Awards at the Oscars. It was perfection. Why did Steven Spielberg feel the need to make it again?

Because he could. Because he did. Because he should’ve.  Spielberg has a slew of movies under his belt – E.T., Indiana Jones, Schindler’s List and so on and so forth. Why mess with a musical featuring Natalie Wood as Maria? Where Rita Moreno won an Oscar for her portrayal as Anita (Bernardo’s girlfriend)?

Steven thought he could do it better. I’m waiting for the 1961 version to arrive so I can compare notes. In the meantime, let me say that Spielberg has a gift for movie sets.  His outstanding camera angles and his attention to detail elevate a Broadway play to another level on film.

The colors!  Latinas dancing in warm reds, orange and yellows, girlfriends of the Sharks gang members.  The Jets gang members dance with girls in blues and greens (I predict Academy award for costumes). The brick tenements where everyone’s laundry is hanging across the courtyard are filled with singing puertorriquenas at every window.

There are two new characters, but I won’t spoil it.

The fight scenes are fabulous, however quaint they may seem today. When the Jets sing about Officer Krupke, it’s quaint, as well. When two police officers are able to break up a fight of 2 dozen guys, all you have to do is think about the homicide rates on the other side of the hills that I see from my living room windows to know that two officers couldn’t do that today.

The singing. Maria is outstanding, as is Anita. The guy parts aren’t as strong, but they’ll do. I’m spoiled, being in a chorus with really good singers.

Spielberg didn’t cast a bunch of blond guys as the Jets. At first it was hard to tell who was who, but as the movie progressed, I figured them out. Spielberg cast many skin-tone shades of puertorriqueños, which is to his credit. He also included a whole lot of Spanish dialogue. Again, good for you, Steven.

Then there is Rita Moreno, Now 90, she plays a big part in the movie as Tony’s guardian.  She is great, and she gets to do a surprise song that you won’t expect. No spoilers here.

I read in a newspaper or magazine last week that Spielberg wasn’t happy with any of the auditions for the part of Bernardo. No one looked right for the role of Maria’s older brother. Steven found the right look in photos of a teen actor, now grown. The guy had gone backpacking across South America and had left his actor career. He got a call. It was Steven, offering him the role. In the jungle, with his backpack. Can you imagine?

The Riff character seemed too skinny for me at first. His voice wasn’t great. But he grew on me as the movie progressed. I wonder If the scar on his face is real. By the end, I knew that Riff was well cast, after all.

Go see it. If you don’t like love stories, see it with your woman to make her happy and to see the magic created by Steven Spielberg.

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