With the dire state of quality in many recent releases, I find myself beginning to turn to the old classics as an alternative source of cinema entertainment. The musical genre has always been one of my favourites and is also category that is seldom made in the present time. In anticipation of Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classic West Side story that is due to be released in December, I decided to watch the original 1961 West Side Story directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. This movie won an amazing 10 Academy Awards giving it the bragging rights for being the musical with the most number of Academy Awards.
After over 60 years, West Side Story still resonant and comes across as nothing short of being an exceptional cinematic experience. This film is perfection from the imaginative and creative cinematography, to the perfectly choreographed dance sequences, to the powerful performances, and unforgettable music and songs. Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer plays the ill fated star crossed lovers in this modernised Romeo and Juliet tale of forbidden romance between rival street gangs in New York city. They truly light up the screen making every scene they are in a classic moment. The supporting cast were exceptional and memorable as well, in particular Rita Moreno as Anita and George Chakiris as Bernardo. Robert Wise who also directed The Sound of Music has an eye for the dramatic, and his visual style here is evident with the perfect framing and some amazing wide angle and aerial shots, complementing the musical numbers. This feat is done without the advance technology we have today, which puts many of the new movies to shame in comparison.
The songs and music by Leonard Bernstein were simply fantastic. From the hauntingly beautifully simple ballads like “Maria” to the fast dance numbers like “America”, each song is special in its own way and blends in to the flow of the story seamlessly. Every song feels like a high point in the movie and there are so many memorable tunes including “Tonight”, “I Feel Pretty” and the classic “Somewhere”. The singing voice for Maria (Natalie Wood) was provided by Marni Nixon who was also the voice of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Needless to say it was flawlessly beautiful and Natalie Wood did a convincing job lip syncing all her songs.
West Side Story 1961 is a tough act to follow and I cannot imagine Steven Spielberg improving much less matching this with his new remake. I had a look at the new West Side Story teaser trailer which already forces comparisons to be made. I shall leave my comments and opinions until after I see the complete finished work. But, as I said, Spielberg has a tough act to follow and I am looking forward to seeing his version soon.