West Side Story (1961)

Image result for west side story

If you know nothing else about West Side Story (like, say, your fearless blogger), you know that it’s based on Romeo and Juliet.  Okay, I’m familiar with Shakespeare, so I have a pretty good idea of how this movie is going to go.  Somebody dresses up as a woman (and/or man), everybody gets married in the end, and a Fool sings in rhyming couplets, right?  Just kidding – it’s one of the ones where everyone is brutally murdered, obviously the best choice to set to music.

I know plenty of people who really love this movie, so I came into it with the cautious skepticism that accompanies any viewing of a favorite.  (Basically, I’m always expecting to be disappointed, both in the movie/TV show/whatever and with myself for being so damned contrary).  In past posts, I’ve noted my low to moderate interest in musicals, which is merely to say:  don’t expect me to go crazy here.

From the beginning, I couldn’t help noticing the filmmaker’s deep appreciation of color, as many of them as possible, in fact.  In the overture, I was half-convinced that something had gone horribly wrong with my television set.  Later on, there are moments that suggest someone went a little wild with the Instagram filters.  The Sharks and the Jets conveniently dress themselves in coordinating colors, like uniforms for their respective sports teams, which is honestly what they seemed like more than rival gangs.

Let’s just be real here:  it’s really hard for me to take a musical seriously.  I can’t immerse myself in a story about racism and blood feuds when somebody’s busting out into song every few minutes.  My attention flags quickly in the middle of a number, because I’m just waiting for something else to happen.  And sure, the dance choreography is pretty neat, but it just makes me think of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” more than deeply affecting emotional drama.

This also reminds me a lot of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.  These were the sorts of stories that originated in an era when clean-cut preppies faced off against the greasers, and everybody had hilarious nicknames.  Sort of like hipsters versus everybody else today.

Though it’s certainly not the most egregious case of whitewashing in cinematic history, it’s worth noting that Natalie Wood is not, in fact, Puerto Rican.  Does it matter?  Natalie Wood was apparently the child of immigrants, so perhaps she could speak to the immigrant experience in some way.  Or maybe studio execs and America weren’t willing to see an actual Latina woman in a starring movie role in 1961.  How many are there even now?

Speaking of Natalie Wood:  she died in a boating accident in somewhat mysterious circumstances.  Also on that boat was her husband, Robert Wagner, and a man who later became famous for all sorts of other reasons – Christopher Walken.  Random trivia.

What more is there to say about West Side Story?  Well, I watched it.  Another iconic film from the twentieth century, probably on that list of 1000 Films to See Before You Die.  I feel like I’ve checked something off the list of shared human pop cultural references.  No, I am not an alien living among people and pretending to know your ways – that is, our ways.  I am completely normal.

 

Theme:  Whitewashing

First Time Watching?  Would you believe yes?

Final Verdict:  Let’s negotiate a RUMBLLLLLE!

 

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