West Side Story Event: the Big 50th-year Anniversary National Re-release

(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

(cross-posted from firefly-dreaming.com)

Greetings to everybody here on Docudharma!

As you know, last night was the big event that I’d been looking forward to;  the big 50th-year Anniversary national re-release of my all-time favorite film, West Side Story!   The event was a Fathom Events affair, and the film had been restored and reprinted in HD (High Definition).  I had bought tickets for me and a friend of mine, online through Fandango, printed them at home through my computer, put both printed-out tickets for the event safely in an envelope, labeled the envelope for the TCM (Turner Classic Movies) West Side Story event, and then tacked it on my make-shirt bulletin board, which consists of a folding wooden door that was originally going to be used for another storage closet some years ago, which never materialized, and still gets used as a bulletin board to this day.  

Shortly after 5:00 in the evening, as pre-arranged, my friend and I met downstairs in the lobby of our building, and drove over to the Regal Fenway 13 and RPX stadium movie Theatre.   The evening rush-hour traffic on the way over there, as usual, was horrible, especially at the overpass near the building where my friend and I both live, and the general vicinity of the Boston University Bridge (which is still undergoing re-construction, but is almost finished, thank Heavens), as well as in the general vicinity of the movie theatre, but, since we’d left in plenty of time to make the 7:00 show, we had lots of time, and there was no need for me to get uptight and worry about not making it in time for the event, as we drove and inched our way along with the other cars in the traffic.  I generally try to avoid driving during the morning and evening rush-hours in our area, because it gets so nasty at those hours around our neck of the woods, but if I absolutely have to, I make sure to allow lots of time, in case of a major, major delay, such as an accident, etc.

I made it with my car and ourselves (our egos intact), and managed to find a meter on the street  where the old Star Market (now Shaws), where I used to go shopping years ago when I was in college and lived within walking distance of the market.  I had brought lots of quarters for the meters, because like Somerville, Cambridge and Brookline, the meters are now in affect until 8:00 p. m.  A rather stupid policy, imho, because town and city officials are clearly out to make more money, but what can I say.  I just  put 2 hours worth of quarters in the meter and then we walked around a bit, before going to the theatre.  We’d left Brickbottom shortly after five, and then timed it when we got there;  it had taken us roughly three-quarters of an hour to get there, thanks for the bungled-up horror show that passes for the evening rush-hour in our area.  Whew!  We made it!  

At around six-thirty, we went and selected our seats within the particular cinema in the movie theatre where the big West Side Story event was to take place.  The theatre may not look like much from the outside, but it’s a rather large, cavernous place, with 13 cinemas, and a medium-sized cinema, which, like all of them, has stadium-type seating so that one doesn’t end up looking at the backs of people’s heads at the same time as watching whatever movie is playing at the time.  The concessions are awfully expensive, though!  Sheesh.

We had a good crowd at the event last night.  While West Side Story didn’t sell out, the movie was well attended, which was a good sign.  Perhaps the people sponsoring the event had learned something about better advertising for it, which had been sorely lacking for a similar 45th year Anniversary Sound of Music national re-release event, which I’d attended the AMC Theatre in Harvard Square, in Cambridge.  I was surprised (and somewhat disappointed) to see that there was just a tiny handful of people (only about a half-dozen at the most) in the movie theatre!  We all pretty much had the movie theatre to ourselves, which was kind of appalling, first because this had never, ever happened before, and secondly because it must not’ve boded well for this particular event, or for future events like this.  

Perhaps the much better-attended West Side Story event indicates that West Side Story is still popular 50 years out, and perhaps it’s because The Sound of Music is shown on TV quite frequently.  Whatever the reason(s), my friend and I were both relieved to find that the TCM West Side Story event was as well attended as it was.   Better early than late, especially since I managed to find a meter nearby, instead of having to go around and park in the garage, which I would’ve done if I’d gone by myself, probably.  While we’re on the brief subject of garages, however, sometimes I feel more secure parking in the street than in a garage, which can be much creepier, even during the day.  I figure that at least in the street, if a threatening situation develops, I can try to (and hopefully) outrun a potential adversary and retreat to an open lighted restaurant or wherever, whereas in a garage, I’d probably have no such option, if worst came to worse.  Yet, there are some places where garage parking is preferable, due to the scant availability of on-street parking, or being more secure, due to the presence of security guards there. I know most people put their car in a garage because it’s more secure so they get cheaper car insurance quotes but I’m willing to pay that little extra to have the car on the street.

Anyway, enough of the pre-thoughts.  Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of my essay.  The friend that I went with, who’s several years older than me, always likes to observe the general age of the audience at events, so she noticed, as did I, that there was a mostly younger crowd.  Accept for one white-haired woman who’d come alone, she was one of the few white-haired people there.  (I’m not white-haired yet, so I look younger than I am).  My friend and I chose our seats just far enough from the screen, and high enough up in the movie theatre for a good view, and we came in the middle of a pre-movie documentary of the various cast members who were discussing the film, the making of it, and their roles in  the filmWest Side Story.  Rita Moreno, who’s well into her seventies, is still as attractive as ever, and it was cool to see all the cast, even though the ones still alive had grown older, obviously.  Many of the audience had either come in dating pairs, or with several other friends, generally, or came solo, l usually do for movies.  

When the event started, at the scheduled time, the movie was preceded by a discussion by the various people involved in producing the film, including Walter Mirisch, who’d bought the rights to the movie West Side Story, as well as Marni Nixon, who’d done the dubbing for Natalie Wood, who played Maria, as well as some other people, and it was interesting to hear what they had to say about making the film.  I’d learned beforehand how upset Natalie Wood had been when it was decided that her voice was not going to be used in the film, but not about the extent of her reaction.   However,  Natalie Wood’s hostile attitude towards Richard Beymer and the fact that she’d tried to get him kicked off the set on several occasions wasn’t mentioned, nor was the fact that the late Elvis Presley had been the first to be approached by the late director Robert Wise for the part of Tony, which Elvis wanted very badly to play, but had been forced to turn it down by his manager, who didn’t want Elvis Presley to “play the part of a juvenile delinquent”.  Elvis Presley was said to deeply regret having turned down the opportunity to play the part of Tony in the film West Side Story, especially after it became a huge hit.  The fact that the cast and crew members alike had had rocks and bottles showered down on them while they were filming part of the movie in what was then a rather rough section on NYC’s West Side and ended up hiring out an actual street gang for security purposes  (which had a certain amount of irony, since West Side Story is about two warring NYC street gangs, after all!) was not mentioned, either.  The discussion, which was moderated by TCM’s Robert Osborn, was interesting to listen to.

After the documentary,  the movie started.  West Side Story had been cleaned up, reprinted, remastered, and the print was rather sharp, and the color good, with the exception of certain parts of it being a little too dark.  However, it was interesting that the lighting had been made so that everybody really appeared to be coming out of the shadows, and it made the faces of the warring Jets and Sharks look even  rougher, tougher and more sinister–like real street gangs, if one gets the drift.  The somewhat darker background of the tenements, both on the street and on the big sound stage also looked more foreboding, and made for a more interesting aspect of the film.  

The intermission was not turned on for this film, but that was okay.  I chose the initial meeting of Tony and Maria after the Dance at the Gym scene to duck out of the theatre to go to the ladies’ room, and then came back in the middle of it.   Although the film West Side Story had already come out on video and DVD quite some time ago, this was far different, in that, unlike in the video and DVD, which made West Side Story look somewhat flatter and less 3-dimensional (as do all films once they come out on video and DVD), this was a little different, as the characters shown in the film last night looked very three-dimensional.  

The film was as great as ever, and, since West Side Story is a film that I never get tired of seeing, I relished it like I always do, and have yet another screening of West Side Story to attend, on Monday evening, at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, in Brookline, which is also just outside Boston.  One thing about viewing West Side Story every time this classic comes around;  I always notice things about it that I didn’t notice in the last viewing.  Sure, most people, if they go to see a movie that they like well enough to see more than once (and I do this with most movies that I like well enough to see more than once).  For example, I noticed that, during the first afternoon playground brawl between the Jets and Sharks, as well as The Dance at the Gym scene, that there were many more people standing or sitting around in the background.  It’s interesting to see.

Since the  movie theatre in which my friend and I attended last night’s West Side Story was situated in a somewhat darker section of the city of Boston, just outside the residential areas nearby, it was only fitting that this movie be shown here also, as the story is set in a run-down tenement area on the West Side of 1950’s-1960’s New York City.  Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer seemed to stand out as Tony and Maria even more than usual in last night’s showing of the film West Side Story, as did the cynical, bigoted and bitter veteran Lt. Schrank and the somewhat less cynica (it is based on Romeo and Juliet, after all!), but there are quite afew funny parts that evoke(d) laughter (occasionally ribald) from the audience.  I always manage to smile, watch the film intensely, or laugh out loud, or even mist up, depending on the part of the film, and, in the end, when Tony was gunned down by the now-vengeful Chino,  after he’d stabbed and killed Bernardo, there was quite a bit of sniffling and blowing of noses all around us, an indication that there were some wet-eyed people in the audience.  That’s okay.

My friend and I had a long discussion about it afterwards, and we both agreed that one big reason that West Side Story is still so popular is that it’s still relevant, even to this day.  There’s still lots of prejudice today, here in the United States and the world, generally, and the message that West Side Story sends is about the senselessness of gang violence, constant fighting and killing, as well as the destructive consequences of hatred.  Not only did my friend and I agree wholeheartedly about the message, but it’s also true that people, for the most part, not only here in the United States, but throughout the world, haven’t learned any better.  It’s sad, but true.  

Since West Side Story is such a wonderful classic, I overlook certain things about it, such as the dubbing of Natalie Wood’s, Richard Beymer’s,  and to a lesser extent, Rita Moreno’s voices, as well as the somewhat lacklustre playing of Richard Beymer as Tony, but I learned something afew years ago that has made me more willing to give Richard Beymer the benefit of the doubt;  The bad off-screen rapport between Beymer and Wood, and the fact that Natalie Wood had actually tried to get Beymer kicked off the set on several occasions (Natalie Wood was dating Warren Beatty at the time and was said to be very angry and resentful at having been paired up with Beymer for West Side Story).  Richard Beymer was clearly pained by Natalie Wood’s hostility, and it showed somewhat, but not so much that it prevented me from enjoying and loving this wonderful film.  Having said that, I believe that Richard Beymer might very well have played a stronger role as Tony if it hadn’t been for that unfortunate bad rapport between he and Wood, but I also read that they made up later;  Beymer noticed  Wood in a diner somewhere out in California and was attracted to her, and they got along after that.  It’s weird how Natalie Wood died, isn’t it?  Sad, too, especially nobody really knows how that happened.  Whether she fell off a boat in Southern California while in a drunken state and drowned, or whether there was foul play involved, isn’t clear, even to this day.    

Since I’ve written much about the characters and the overall story, and thoughts about the film West Side Story, generally on a number of different threads and posts here, what I’m saying on here is somewhat more limited, and more about last night’s event, generally.  All I can say is that I found myself really getting into and relishing this movie just as much as ever, perhaps even more than before, especially after having seen the up to date Broadway stage revival of West Side Story, which, while I enjoyed, there were a number of aspects of it that I felt, sort of brought it down somewhat.  Since I’ve written about that in a separate post here on firefly-dreaming, I won’t go into it here, however.  

West Side Story is due to come out in Blu-Ray DVD, in a 50th-year Anniversary special collector’s edition, which worries me somewhat;  As weird and somewhat petty as this may seem to most people, I worry about the possibility of never, ever seeing it come out in movie theatres again, even in independent, non-profit repertory movie theatres such as the Coolidge Corner Theatre and the Brattle Theatre, as well as other independent theatres here in the United States, generally.  Or are my worries all for naught?  Not everybody has Blu-Ray, and I probably won’t buy it, since I don’t even have a DVD player, period.  

Oh, and I also might add that Ben Affleck’s cheesy and highly overrated movie, The Town, cannot even be compared with, let alone compete with a great movie/musical classic such as West Side Story.   Sure, both of these movies involve action and romance, but there are some very important differences.  Unlike Doug MacRay and his men in The Town, the Jets and Sharks in West Side Story are not into going out and robbing banks and armored trucks, or taking people hostages as a bargaining chip for a possible get-away if and when the cops close in.

Secondly, unlike in West Side Story, where the characters are in their teens, or perhaps very early twenties, the characters in The Town are well into adulthood, and therefore beyond old enough to know better than to engage in actions and behaviors that’re criminal and cause harm to others as well as themselves.  This is one big reason that I have lots of sympathy for both the jets and the Sharks, as well as Tony and Maria in West Side Story, and little to no sympathy for Doug MacRay and his men, or Claire Keesey, the bank manager who was taken hostage after being robbed at gunpoint (although I did sympathize with Claire at first, because the armed bank robbery and abduction that Doug MacRay and his men made her a victim of wasn’t her fault), but I lost all sympathy for Claire when she became involved in a full-scale romance with Doug and kept in contact with him and refused to write him out of her life even after she learned who he was through the Feds, who were hunting MacRay and his men down.  

In West Side Story, I wasn’t as sympathetic to Lt. Schrank and Ofcr Krupke, and more sympathetic to the kids, perhaps because they were young and caught up in the ordeal of trying to find identify (although everybody,  no matter what age, goes through that to some degree, in some way), especially since Lt. Schrank indicated his dislike for people generally when he insults the Jets for their backgrounds, as well as the Sharks during the dispute between him and the Jets/Sharks at Doc’s Candy Store before and after the pre-rumble war-council between the Jets and Sharks.

In The Town, however, I found myself being sympathetic with FBI Special Agent Frawley and Dino Ciampa, who’d been assigned to hunt down Doug MacRay and his men and to bring them to justice.  Not only do I believe that Doug should’ve been punished by a long, hard term in a federal penitentiary for his crimes (three of his buddies got killed in a shoot-out between the law and them), but I also think that Claire should’ve been criminally prosecuted herself, or at least put on some sort of probation for aiding and abetting an armed felon and wanted fugitive (Doug MacRay).  

Anyway, back to the subject at hand, The Town and West Side Story, although they certainly are similar in some respects (they both take place in run-down urban areas, both have tough guys, both entail romance evolving from opposite sides of the track, so to speak, and both have sad, violent endings, and much conflict with the law), there are some important differences, that I mentioned above.  Unlike in West Side Story, where the various characters suffer direct and dire consequences of their hatred of each other, wanton violence and conflict with the law that ensues as a consequence, and ends in the destruction of Tony and Maria’s romance, not to mention three deaths, which, ironically, turn, result in at least a hint of possible reconciliation when several Jets and Sharks come together to carry off Tony’s body after he’s been shot by Chino, and reach at least a momentary understanding in tragedy and of each other,  The Town’s Doug and Claire, on the other hand,  not only come up smelling like roses and not suffering any direct consequences of their law-breaking, but, there’s no real hint, if any, that they’ll ever re-unite.

The phrase  “I’ll see you again, this side or the other”, imho, is proof of that, and I came away from my last viewing of The Town hoping that Doug eventually would  be hunted down,  caught by the Feds and get tried and jailed for h is crimes, and that Claire would end up being criminally prosecuted herself,  or put on probation  for having aided and abetted an armed felon and wanted fugitive (Doug MacRay), thus allowing him to elude the law and go free.  Yet, I’m glad that they don’t re-unite, and part of me thinks that too many people fail to realize that Doug skips town for Florida due to being on the lam from the law, and leaves Claire behind, not only because he got what he wanted out of her, but because they both knew that at some level, Doug would probably be caught by the Feds and either whisked off to jail (where he belonged), or possibly be gunned down by the law, and that having Claire around would put her in more danger.  

Anyway, to close off this essay (sorry for digressing so far off of the original subject, folks, but I had to make some comparisons and point out dramatic differences between West Side Story and The Town), I will stick to more wholesome, greater movies such as West Side Story, which still lives on in the memories and hearts of so many people 50 years later, and will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of people for as long as movies continue to exist, or longer.  The Town, on the other hand, will more than likely disappear into the dustbin of history in the hearts and minds of many people in afew years, I think, and part of me hopes that happens.

The MGM quote  “Unlike other Classics, West Side Story grows younger” is so true!  Although I’ve seen a great many classic films that I’ve liked well enough to see more than once,  unlike West Side Story, many, if not most of these classic films, even the ones that I like a lot, do tend to be a little bit dated and frayed around the edges.  Imho, and probably that of many other people’s, West Side Story stands out like the brilliant gem of a film that it is, and will probably continue to do so through the end of time!  (am I getting too carried away here, folks??)  That being said, perhaps my worries about the possibilities of West Side Story not ever being shown again in movie theatres of any kind are for naught!

Although there are many films, bot older and newer, that I’ve liked well enough to see more than once, none of them hold the special place in my heart regarding movies as West Side Story, or tug at my heartstrings, at least not in the same way.  Unlike most other classics, West Side Story is a film that I can’t resist going to see any time it comes around, whether it’s in a movie theatre or on TV.  Granted, I’ve occasionally driven my family/friends a little crazy with my incessant talking about it, which is partly why I do more writing these days, but they’ve come to accept my idiosyncrasies, in spite of that.  Unlike other classics, West Side Story seems to beckon me to to see it, and it does speak to me in some way or other, which I can’t put a finger on.  

Since I was still a teenager (A Senior in High School, at around Christmastime of 1968, when there was a national re-release of it) when I first saw the film West Side Story, at a now-defunct cinema roughly 45 minutes to an hour north of Boston, I fell in love with it immediately, and I was able identify with the Jets, the Sharks and their girls regarding kids being kids, and so on, but as I got older, I began to see West Side Story in a different light;  A film that not only has a wonderful story behind it, but is a work of art in itself.  One of its strengths is the fact that it was kept as sort of a play;  a larger than life-sized piece of theatre, which is part of what makes West Side Story such a gem.  This great classic also symbolizes somewhat more simple and more innocent times, which can be cool to remember in and of itself,  as long as one realizes that there’s no going back to times gone by.  Preserving a part of one’s memory through the showing of such movies as West Side Story, however, can be, and often enough is priceless, even if some people may think that I’m a little “off” because of it.  I think that many people prove how “off” they really are, however, when they’re nasty and make personal digs and attacks.  

Okay, folks..I’m going to sign off.  Pardon my long-winded rambling today.  I’ll be seeing West Side Story again, on Monday night, at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, so I’m happy about that too, and I’ll keep you posted.  

Thanks for reading and listening, everybody!

1 comment

    • mplo on November 10, 2011 at 16:43

    After beginning as a famous late-1950’s Broadway stage musical that opened in NYC’s Winter Garden in late September of 1957, where it played for two years before embarking on a national and then a world tour,  West Side Story was made into a spectacular motion picture, after Walter Mirisch bought the rights to the movie.  The film version of West Side Story, which starred Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood, went on to win ten well-earned Academy Awards, including Best Picture for that year, after it had its world Premier Opening at the now-demolished NYC’s Rivoli Theatre, on October 18, 1961.  

    West Side Story, despite having its detractors (most notably the late movie critic, Pauline Kael, who panned West Side Story with much vehemance and hostility) still remains a great memory in the hearts and minds of many people throughout the United States and the world, generally, and will undoubtedly remain so through the end of time.

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