Movies: West Side Story vs. The Town:

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Hey, folks:   Here’s hoping that you can bear with me while I write yet another essay on a couple of movies that I’ve been thinking about lately, involving their differences (of which there are many) and their similarities.  

Please note:  This  thread is cross-posted in, and part of this post (about West Side Story) is posted on the new blog, in the West Side Story section.  This, too, is my very own writing, and nobody else’s.

Here goes

Hey, all…can you stand more on West Side Story?

I’ve got that on my mind as well.  Here goes:

Pretty much everybody knows that West Side Story is my alltime favorite movie, hands down,  and that I’m a devout fan of this great classic film  who  always feels like I’m seeing West Side Story for the first time.  Inotherwords, it’s still fresh, imho.   Although West Side Story is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, this particular musical is still relevant, imho, because, although it’s fiction, it’s closer to reality in many respects;  people from “opposite sides of the track” falling in love amid conflict on both sides, dating and even marrying, racial, ethnic and religious tensions, urban gang warfare, all of which still frequently gets played out in real life.  People can and do even fall in love at first sight in real life, although in real life, even that takes time to grow and develop into something where mutual trust and love enable the love to mushroom into something really substantial, if one gets the drift.

Yet, I’m aware of the fact that in real life, gangs don’t go dancing through the streets, nor do they dance their way through street fights and all-out rumbles, which have now evolved into dangerous drive-by shootings and shootings on street corners in many neighborhoods, and gangs today are even more vicious than they were in times  gone past.  It used to be that gangs would stake out and protect their territory, in real life, but  racial/ ethnic tensions and hostilities lent that protection of turf an even more vicious edge.  

Since I’ve also seen several very good stage productions of West Side Story, I kind of have to say that West Side Story is my favorite stage musical, as well.  In addition to the two screenings of the film version of WSS that I will be going to see;  one at the Emerson College-owned Paramount Theatre in downtown Boston this coming Saturday night, and the other at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, in Brookline, in mid-November (I’ve already got tickets for both of those screenings), I will be taking my youngest nephew and my niece to a matinee show of the latest Broadway stage revival of West Side Story here in Boston.  I’ve read a number of reviews on this latest WSS Broadway revival;  some good, some not so good.  I really wasn’t sure I wanted to see this particular production of the stage version of West Side Story, but some other people’s suggestion, I went down to the Colonial Theatre here on Boston’s Boylston Street, and purchased some rather expensive mezzanine tickets.  It’s well that I did, since they’re going fast, and there weren’t many mezzanine tickets left, and I didn’t want the balcony, because that would’ve been too far away.  

The matinee of the latest Broadway revival production of West Side Story here in Boston will be coming up in late June, and I’ve got to admit to having ambivalent feelings about seeing this particular production of the stage version of West Side Story, given the mixed reviews I’ve read about it, but curiosity is beckoning me.  Since I’ve always considered West Side Story a beautiful musical both on stage and on screen for a number of reasons that I’ve already posted here on firefly and some other forums, I figure I have nothing to lose.  Seeing something live on stage can also be interesting, and it’s a whole different kind of medium, because more effort is required to maintain a constant wave of communication between the actors/actresses and the audience, through a much narrower focus than when one watches a movie on the large screen, since movies generally demand one’s attention by appearing larger than life on the screen.  

West Side Story, for all kinds of reasons, is one of the few musicals, imho, that’s successful on both stage and screen, but there are  others who would disagree.  I think it depends on who one talks to, as well.  

This particular musical has a particular appeal to me because of the overall story behind it, the Bernstein musical score, and the various characters and a real story of love and romance that develops amid conflict, only to go up in smoke. The beautifully-choreographed dancing by Jerome Robbins, as well as the fabulous cinematography and photography by Daniel Fap, as well as the well designed sets by Boris Leven that looked uncannily like a real run-down urban setting, and the richly-colored costumes and photography also make this great movie/musical the dynamite package that it is.    When I saw the film version of West Side Story for the first time this year at the beautifully-renovated Paramount Theatre here in Boston this past Sunday night, I once again realized what a wonderful alternative to most of what’s coming out nowadays in the way of movies that this great, golden oldie but keeper of a movie/musical classic that West Side Story is.

The new, overrated film,   The Town, directed by and starring Ben Affleck as Doug MacRay, a lifelong Charlestown “Townie” and the leader of a 4-man crew of professional bank robbers,  on the other hand,  can’t even compete with the film West Side Story, despite certain similarities between the two films:  A guy and a girl developing a romance amid class conflict;  (A Charlestown Townie guy who works at Boston Sand and Gravel and is also a professional bank robber, vs. a Charlestown “Toonie” gal who’s a bank manager (not likely in real life, because the Town-Gown tensions here in Boston are too acute for that), for whom  plans for the couple to elope and leave the old turf behind go up in smoke due to pressures).  

There are important differences too, however;   West Side Story‘s Tony isn’t a bank robber, but a founder and ex-gang leader of the Jets who simply who wants out of gang life and the streets, and Maria is just a recently-arrived young girl  from Puerto Rico who accepts Tony’s love for her.  West Side Story‘s  Tony and Maria are both young (in their teens or early 20’s), and the warring Jets and Sharks aren’t involved in bank robberies, but  face to face conflict over turf, race, ethnicity and culture. The Town‘s Doug MacRay and Claire Keesey, on the other hand,  are both much older (in their 30’s) and therefore way old enough to know better than to play with fire, especially since, unlike Tony and Maria in West Side Story, Doug and Claire have heat on them from the FBI, although the Jets and Sharks in West Side Story are constantly  watched and hassled by  regular street cops, as opposed to the FBI.

It’s hard for me to resent any of the characters in West Side Story, because they’ve all got issues to deal with that aren’t their fault.  With Doug and Claire in The Town, well, that’s a different matter.   Althought Doug MacRay comes off as a decent guy who’s concerned about Claire Keesey’s welfare and well-being, he’s really not a good guy, but a sociopath without a conscience, who exploits Claire at her most vulnerable moments (being traumatized enough by Doug and his men to quit her job as bank manager) (unbeknownst to Claire),  who’d  knocked over her bank), as well as  Krista Coughlin, the drugged out sister of his right hand man, “Jem” Coughlin, an unstable, ruthless street thug who’d kill without remorse and must be kept in check by Doug.

Claire is supposedly a “normal” person who’s very shook up after what happened to her and is having a tough time dealing with it, as opposed to being someone with innate issues, such as autism, ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, Aspergers Syndrome or epilepsy, that have been set in place at or before birth, and therefore being more impacted than a “normal” person who is just having a hard time dealing with a temporary crisis. (So, nobody can hold Claire’s trauma and subsequent Stockholm Syndrome  against her, on the long run.)    Had the latter been the case, however, Claire probably wouldn’t have been so lucky;  Doug and his men would’ve more than likely been only too likely to sexually assault Claire, or worse, “off” her.  Or, is it possible that they might’ve assumed that Claire wasn’t capable of turning the Feds on them and  simply left her alone altogether?   Who knows? Given the fact that Claire allowed herself to fall for Doug’s deceitful behavior and lying to her about who he really was and about his dysfunctional family (his incarcerated father and his mother taking off when he was six years old), was Claire really so normal after all?  Probably not.  Claire was certainly not the sweet, smart and classy lady that she came off as, and  she was certainly no saint, either.

Yet, as much as Krista Coughlin’s clearly no angel (Her drug and alcohol addiction, her loose morals (constantly sleeping around with  different guys from  the Town),  and being involved in  a DUI accident, with her infant daughter Shyne in the front seat, no less, don’t exactly make her the most ideal role model for her kid.), Claire Keesey is no angel either, as it turns out.  Not only did Claire lie to the Feds about who Doug really was in order to cover Doug’s ass, but she also tipped Doug off to the Feds right when they were on the verge of nabbing Doug (whose friends had been gunned down by cops and Feds and cops due to Krista’s having ratted them out to the FBI partly in retaliation for Doug’s having dumped her for Claire, and partly out of being threatened with the loss of her daughter) and sending him to prison for a long sentence, but Claire also tipped Doug off to the presence of the FBI in her Charlestown condo with a “sunny days” code warning him to stay away lest the FBI kill him, thus abetting Doug ( an armed felon and wanted fugitive), and enabling him to elude the law and go free.  

Claire also kept a duffel bag of stolen money left for her by Doug (from the Feway Park heist committed by Doug and his men right before Doug winged it to Florida without her), with a note that ended with the phrase  “I know I’ll see you again, this side or the other”, (meaning that Doug and Claire would never meet again) which Claire spent it on the renovation of a Charlestown ice hockey rink, which was also illegal.  The Town would’ve been much more satisfying if Doug and Claire had both been made to pay for their actions and behaviors;  Doug with a long prison sentence, and Claire some type of other punishment for having done illegal stuff herself.  “Just desserts” would’ve made The Town a whole lot better, imo, as would far less slip-shod, slap-happy editing on the part of Ben Affleck and his assistant producer(s).  The overblown scenes in the North End and Fenway Park, with their excessive exaggeration and too much exploding on the screen, also caused The Town to fall  well short of its potential for being a really good top-notch film of this decade.

Unlike Claire Keesey who falls for the professional bank robber,  Doug MacRay in The Town,  West Side Story‘s Maria doesn’t suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome as a result of being taken hostage, blindfolded and abducted by the guy she later falls in love with.  There are no bank robberies, let alone any hostage-taking in West Side Story, thank heavens.

Another important difference between West Side Story and The Town is not only the times in which they were made, but the messages that both of these films carry.  

While West Side Story carries a message of the consequences of hatred and prejudice, and the fact that gang violence is a path that essentially leads nowhere, yet a light at the end of the tunnel ending in some sort of reconciliation between people is possible, the movie The Town, OTOH, carries the message that it’s okay to endanger the lives and safety of innocent bank employees and customers in order to steal their money, to thumb one’s nose at the law and law enforcement people, and to do anything to avoid being accountable for and paying for one’s actions and behaviors.  The very idea of scaring innocent people by coming into a bank wearing masks, robbing and terrorizing people at gunpoint, the taking and abduction of hostages, and the near-fatal beating of an innocent bank employee, as well as exploitation of people during their most vulnerable moments, however, points out the consequences of such criminal actions and behaviours to innocent bystanders.  

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    • mplo on May 12, 2011 at 19:58

    Please also note:  

    The following link, imho, describes the (former) bank manager, Claire Keesey in the movie, The Town (which, btw, is based on Chuck Hogan’s page-turner of a novel, Prince of Thieves, which is based on a true event) to a tee


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