West Side Story
In 1961, West Side Story, a filmed version of the hit Broadway musical that was inspired by William Shakespeares “Romeo and Juliet,” was released to viewers, who just could not resist the energy and excitement of the movie. Thirty-eight years later, viewers, like myself, still cannot resist it. I had never seen the film, which was directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, before, but I had always wondered why people loved this multi award-winning movie so much. After viewing the film, I think that it deserved the ten Academy Awards that it won because it has withstood the test of time and it truly is a remarkable film. It still has the same flair and ability to lure the viewer into the plot as it did when it was first shown in theaters. I think that it truly is one of the best pictures of this century because it offers entertainment and an important lesson about hate as well.
West Side Story is primarily a social statement with a touching love story surrounding the social aspect of the film. West Side Story has three main themes, love, tragedy, and justice, which are brought to light throughout the course of the movie. The plot of the film involves two race-based gangs fighting to rule the same strip of street on the West Side of New York City in the late 1950s. The film teaches a valuable lesson; a lesson about how hate can kill a person and destroy the lives of his or her loved ones. The Jets, a white gang of teenagers led by Riff, and the Sharks, the Puerto Ricans who recently came to the West Side, are the two gangs vying to rule the same area on their block. The Jets immediately hate the Sharks because they are different and vice versa. The two gangs hatred is brought to a public level at a dance the same night as the first fight. During the dance, sparks fly between the sister of the leader of the Sharks, Maria, played by Natalie Wood, and former co-founding member of the Jets, Tony, and their Romeo and Juliet-like romance begins.
Although the doomed Romeo and Juliet plot was rather predictable, the choreography and songs, which I think were the main reasons why this film won Best Picture, were not. I never knew when the actors were going to start singing and dancing, which added a delightful element of mystery to the film. The directors and cinematographer, Daniel L. Fapp, worked together to change the way musicals were traditionally shot. Instead of using traditional long shots, they used quick cuts and varied angles to enhance the appeal of the musical numbers. I was fascinated by the way the colorful costumes, which won the Oscar for Best Costume Design, fit together perfectly with the dance numbers to enhance the entire scene. The way the women tossed the skirts of their frilly, bright dresses around to fit the beats of the music truly made the scenes wonderful.
The scenery in the film was perfect for the West Side of New York City. The rooftops, alleys, and secluded spots are what won West Side Story the Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color Oscar. The songs are unforgettably beautiful, especially I Feel Pretty, Tonight, and America, and they can make anyone start singing and dancing along regardless of whether or not he or she actually knows the lyrics. In fact, one of the best examples of effective cinematography in the film involves a song. There is a split screen effect between several characters as they all sing the song, Tonight, as they march to the rumble.
Even today, people rent West Side Story to see why it won so many awards and received so much acclaim. In my opinion, West Side Story is a classic masterpiece that brings up many issues to viewers. This film speaks volumes about the inequalities some foreigners felt they had in America because of how some Americans treated them. However, the most important issue in this film is gang violence. The teens in West Side Story thought that the only way they could solve their disagreement was through violence. Sadly, it is still the same case today with most young adults. However, the gang aspect of this film strikes closer to home today than it did in 1961. Million of kids and young adults are killed in gang-related deaths each year, so West Side Story can offer a valuable lesson to virtually everyone.