With remarkable curiosity and tasty expectations, I attend the new version of a musical film classic with which countless viewers were hypnotized and moved at the beginning of the sixties. It was titled West Side Story. The return to her bears the signature of Steven Spielberg. I mean, bigger words. This gentleman has played almost every genre with many memorable results. And some fiascos.
There are films that remain embedded in the memory of the receivers. And not because of his dazzling art, but also because of personal circumstances. In my case, it was a 9 or 10-year-old boy when my parents took me to see her. And it wasn’t adventure, swordsman, ship, western, or cartoon. West Side Story It was a musical that showed people expressing their feelings by singing and dancing, something unknown in my cinephilia. And he was telling a story (though he would discover that much later) that had already been beautifully told centuries ago by a great guy named Shakespeare. He placed her in Verona and the lovers were named Romeo and Juliet. Here they were transferred to the West Side, a poor New York neighborhood located west of Central Park. The confrontation featured two gangs known as the Jets and the Sharks. Some, descendants of Europeans who also considered themselves natives and with the right to reign in the neighborhood; the others, Puerto Ricans who aspired not only to survive, but also to find their place in the sun. And in the middle, Maria and Tony, two sudden lovers who only pretended to be happy and eat partridges. Destined for tragedy.
I don’t think this movie absolutely fascinated me at the time or in subsequent revisions. But I did fall in love in perpetuity with the wonderful music that the great heterodox Leonard Bernstein invented on the timeless soundtrack. And the lyrics to some of Stephen Sondheim’s songs were beautiful. Topics like Maria, Tonight, I Feel Pretty Y Somewhere they had the capacity to make you dream. It was one of the first records I bought. And the LP soon scratched on my battery-powered turntable from as many times as I heard it. I have been in the company of that beautiful music all my life. And what else nice things did this movie give me? Well, watching the dances of the vital and very sexy Rita Moreno turned me on a lot. And of course, it was impossible not to get hung up on the eyes and beauty of Natalie Wood, that girl who was about to be killed by the vengeful Ethan Edwards in the legendary Desert centaurs and that later he would live a provisional, although unforgettable, Splendor in the grass. In other words, my sentimental memory of that music and what it caused me (how I wanted that feeling called love to appear in my young life) remain to this day. I do not associate that film with the masterpieces of film history, but tears come to me before and now when listening to some of its songs.
And what does Spielberg contribute in this version? Much desire and an impeccable bill. What I don’t know is how the public will react. If it is an irresistible bait for young people and also for those who were fascinated by the original product or if the staff is going to slightly pass on it. Here, unlike the first, in which the interpreters sang dubbed, they contribute their own voices. They also go out to dance in the streets and on real stages, when in the first stage everything was decorated. And the Puerto Rican band, unlike the original product, are played by Hispanic actors or descendants of them. Spielberg’s tribute to Rita Moreno is appreciated, offering her the role of the elderly owner of a grocery store and Tony’s eternal confidant. They all dance and sing well. It would be more. But I do not fall in love physically or mentally with Rachel Zegler, an impossible substitute for my taste for the beautiful Natalie Wood. Spielberg has tried to create a great spectacle in search of the resurrection of movie theaters. I would like it to be so, although I have regrettable doubts.
West Side Story
Direction: Steven Spielberg.
Interpreters: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Álvarez, Rita Moreno, Corey Stoll, Mike Faist.
Gender: musical. United States, 2021.
Duration: 156 minutes.
Premiere: December 22.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.