Sunday, 9 January 2011

West Side Story

There is one other to mention which is the reason why I am writing this piece. It begins with a Confession in that at the time I was not taken with West Side Story. During last week the film versions appeared on a Sky film channel in HD so I recorded and then gave the film my undivided attention. As with many musical it is ad adaptation of an older story, Romeo and Juliet and star crossed lovers. The film won ten of the 11 nominated Academy awards.

The film opens in an unusual way with an orchestral introduction and no moving pictures. The scene is then set between two street gangs. The Jets are a Gang created from the established neighbourhood with includes a range of former immigrant groups while the Sharks represent the Newcomers, Puerto Ricans. The Jets resent the newcomers on principle and make it is evident they are not welcome to meet together anywhere on their territory, They have the support of the local police in this respect. While the fighting is undertaken by the young men their girls support, encourage and sometimes incite in the gang behaviour.

While the story is condemnatory of the behaviour there is an element in the film and original story which approves the codes of honour involved. The tension between the two gangs has been building leading to the situation of a once and for all showdown being arranged by representatives who will meet at a local candy/drug store. The co founder of the Jets has left to work at the store and dreams of having a girl friend and his life changing (Something’s Coming) The ongoing gang leader, Russ Tamblyn eventually persuades Tony, the other co founder to join the meting to arrange the fight.

The leader of the Puerto Rican gang Bernardo takes his sister Maria played by Natalie Wood and girl friend played by Rita Moreno to the local dance where both gangs enjoy themselves but keep apart from each other. An attempt is made at integration during which time Tony and Maria meet and fall instantly in love and leads to one of the well known songs from the Musical Maria. This leads to a debate about whether the Puerto Rican should keep the ethnic identity or attempt to integrate other cultures have done in the past, although to varying degrees with the USA even if they continue to live in ghetto type districts. It remains one of the great problems that the USA likes to present itself as unified and integrated society when in fact it has always been a collection of different cultures each protecting and furthering their identifies. What cannot be argued against is that loyalty and commitment to nation does bind them all. It is a paradox.

After the dance the couple meet in secret and this lead to the other major number from the show Tonight. When the parties meet to determine the form of the fight Tony has been influenced by his relationship with Marie to try and limit the violence with the suggestion of a fight between two leaders or their champions. Expecting that Tony would be successful Maria becomes excited when at work and sings I feel pretty. She then persuades Tony to try and stop the conflict altogether.

At the arranged venue for the fight Tony’s efforts are ignored and Bernardo kills the other cofounder the Jets. In his grief and anger Tony then kills Bernardo.

Tony goes into hiding, meets up with Maria and arranges to run away with her, returning to the store where he hides. Maria is held up and sends Anita, Bernardo’s girl friend to tell Tony that she has been delayed. At the store she is roughed up and threatened with rape for her efforts and as a consequence she tells Tony that Maria has been killed in revenge because of her friendship by the best friend of Bernardo. Tony is distraught and goes into the Street telling Chino to take his life. He then sees Maria and realises she is alive but when going towards her he is killed by Chino. The musical ends with the sentimental notion that because of these events the war between the two gangs will be brought to an immediate If government, national and local and strong, united and purposeful they can keep a lid on such deeply held differences often by getting rid off or making inactive the very people they previously used to undertake the dirty work. Often those previously leaders or in commanding positions are given political and other positions and they also often have the education and natural intelligence and understanding to make truce, armistice and peace agreements work. There is never immediate sentimental solutions.

However I can see why the work was so popular and achieved critical success. The music, lyrics and dance is integrated to a high level. and stands the test of time. I understand there are many differences between the film and the original stage show. Unlike Moulin Rouge there was however no inclination to immediate get the DVD and look forward to replays. Why is this so.

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