West Side Story – 1961
Director(s) – Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise
Starring – Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, and George Chakiris
So if you’ve read this blog before, you may know just how surprised I was upon seeing Singin’ in the Rain. I mean it was a fantastically really well done movie, with an entertaining story, characters with a very tangible chemistry and, the surprising part, it was a musical! I know. I know. I thought that fact alone would guarantee it to be terrible too, but it didn’t.
Well based on the strength of that film, I approached this “classic” with a bit more spring in my step. I mean, this could actually be pretty fun. The story of Romeo and Juliet mixed with the raw energy and exuberance of Singin’ in the Rain. That sounds like a no lose situation…right? Enter the dance fighting. Exit all hope of this being good.
I’ll repeat that…a movie featuring a tragic love story, gang warfare, and dance fighting. Not dance fighting like one might see in a movie like “Step Up” or “You Got Served” where the dancing is the weapon. No, these guys are fighting with knives, pipes, and broken bottles, they just dance around while they do it. Removing all the power, intensity, and plausibility of fighting from the situation.
For those who’ve never heard of Romeo and Juliet, or its retarded cousin, West Side Story, here’s the scoop. There are two rival gangs who hate each other because they are trying to occupy the same territory, and because of the folly of youth, but mostly because they are so different that they are essentially the same. Okay, so we’ve got tension.
Because of their unwillingness to look beyond these minor differences, they are completely unwilling to tolerate co-habitation. Problems arise when a member of each group falls in love with the other. Each gang is outraged and willing to go to great lengths to stop the fledgling romance. There’s the story defining conflict! This mixture of volatile elements is a recipe for disas…oh wait, no. Dance-fighting destroys all conflict and tension just by nature of being fucking dance-fighting. Story ruined.
So all bitterness aside, West Side Story took a rather common hackneyed concept and decided to do absolutely nothing new with it. Adding mediocre songs to the mix, and half-heartedly choreographing some dancing doesn’t re-invigorate a story that everyone knows, especially when the “new” additions all seem tacked on and disingenuous.
So, you ask, does this spoil my impression of musicals again? Am I back to being a non-believer? Not yet, although it was touch and go there for a while. I can rationally understand that there are duds in every genre, no matter if they’re science fiction (The Core anyone), mystery (anything M. Night Shyamalan did post Sixth Sense), or even, gasp, action (Transformers, GI Joe, etc..). Unlike what I previously thought, there will be good musicals, but there will be terrible ones too (so really I was half right).
As for the acting, there really seems to be no point in going into it for this film, I wasn’t impressed by any of it. In general though, one of the actors in particular will manage to redeem himself in my eyes. Russ Tamblyn, will go on to feature heavily in one of the best television series of all times, Twin Peaks, and will also play a host of memorable small roles in such works as, Drive, The Haunting, Quantum Leap, and The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.
So is this film worth seeing? In my opinion, no. Go see Romeo and Juliet instead (or better yet, go read it too), and save yourself the annoyance. Every once in a while this list of 1001 movies has some black holes of crap tossed in just because. This is one of them.
“Giving musicals a bad name” – Ashley