Cinematography in West Side Story Essay

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The opening sequence is one that few films can rival- I have heard it being described as a ‘city symphony’. Abstract cityscapes fade into actual overhead shots of Manhattan. There is an aerial shot of a bridge and some cars over a river. The camera then starts to use tracking shots of freeway junctions, boats, tower blocks and Central Park to show the industrial areas.

These shots are important because the rest of the film is set in the urban area, so this is the only view we get of the surrounding scenery.Then there are tracking shots of Manhattan, the stadium, suburbs and tenements to show the “turf” of the gangs. High angled shots like these make you feel important when watching them- it makes you feel like you are looking down and spying on the lives of others. The camera closes into a long shot of the playground as seen from the roof top. This sets the location and brings us down into the ‘world’ where the gangs rule. We move in closer and closer until we’re at street level in a rough neighbourhood and in the midst of an unruly and aggressive street gang.

The zoom is often used when something dramatic happens, so when the camera starts to move in, it grabs your attention, and you know that the action will start soon. The camera cuts to a close-up of Riff (leader of the Jets) and the other gang members clicking. These first few minutes create anticipation and exhilaration which entice the viewer with exciting camera techniques. This first scene is mostly shot outside, until after Riff’s song where after it is interspersed with lit studio shots. These fit in seamlessly with the outside shots.

Interior shots allow detailed staging and well lit close-ups of characters. Creating the film inside in a studio to make it look as if it were outside can save a lot of time and money. It saves a lot of work for location scouts who have to find suitable places for the film to be set. Another advantage of working in a studio is that you aren’t dependent on things like the weather – inside you make your own rules. Sound-stage is a scene which has been made up of a combination of shots which have been taken in different locations either outside, or shots made in studios.Scenery, props, lighting, back- projection or back paintings can all be used to create almost anything which is imaginable.

There is a theme used in West Side Story- that is of the colour red. In many scenes we can see this colour. Some examples are- when the ‘cool’ song is happening there is a red van, Anita’s red + black shawl, red steps to a cellar when Tony + Riff talk and in one of the first scenes, there is a red wall. The connotations of the colour red are blood, hate, death, anger, love, glory, passion and revenge.

These are also some of the themes of West Side Story.In this way, a simple colour can be used to convey many messages to an audience. The cinematography used in West Side Story is very creative and imaginative. You may compare it to films that we have today and say that the cinema techniques aren’t that original, but in 1961 these methods were very new and innovative.

I think that even audiences today can still appreciate the hard work and dedication it took to make this film, whether it is the music, dance, drama or the cinematography. West Side Story still stands as one of the best films of all time.

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