West Side Story, Then and Now

After seeing the new movie, West Side Story, I needed to watch the 1961 version. Steven Spielberg made a bunch of changes in the new movie, and I wanted to see what they were.  The biggest change was making Doc, originally a man, into a female character so that Rita Moreno could play the part.

For those of you who are too young, Rita Moreno won an Academy Award for best supporting actress in the first film as Anita (Bernardo’s girlfriend). She is now 90 and still acting – incredible.

Speaking of Maria, Natalie Wood was excellent in that part, although Hollywood darkened her skin to make her appear to be Puerto Rican. She also mouthed the words to her songs (not a singer).

The original film is a little hokey, with two dancing street gangs and a policeman who could stop two dozen guys from killing each other with the blow of his whistle. I counted the number of times the actors used a now antiquated phrase – Daddy-o.  It was four times in the old film and zero times in the new one.

There was lots of Spanish in both films, but Spielberg took out the overtly racist remarks (like greasy and too dark).  His settings were clever, but so were the sets in the 1961 film.

Spielberg tried to modernize the film as much as he could, but keeping the original songs made that hard, especially the one called America.

Those of us who remember the first film or saw West Side Story in the theater were the core audience for the new film. Unfortunately, with a pandemic still going on, many Baby Boomers didn’t go to the theaters to see it.

Spielberg changed up the songs (who sang what), so that was a nice twist.  The 1961 film was pretty dramatic, espeically at the end. Wood should’ve won an academy award (she wasn’t even nominated), but she was beat out by Sophia Loren for Two Women (never heard of it).

I bought the DVD on ebay since Netflix didn’t have it available in a timely fashion. It was seven dollars well spent. I may not watch it again for a long time, but it answered my questions, and what else is a girl to do on a football Sunday when she doesn’t care about football?

I’ve sung some of these songs in my community chorus, so that’s another reason I liked the film. Plus, the costumes were awesome (in both versions). And the dancing, the snapping of fingers, and the gang whistle.

I usually write 500 words, but I can’t get there today.

Unless I type in some lyrics:

“There’s a place for us somewhere a place for us, peace and quiet and time to spare, time to love, time to care, somehow, someday, somewhere.”

“Puerto Rico . . .
You ugly island . . .
Island of tropic diseases.
Always the hurricanes blowing,
Always the population growing . . .
And the money owing,
And the babies crying,
And the bullets flying.
I like the island Manhattan.
Smoke on your pipe and put that in!”

Ugly island? Written by a white guy . . .

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