Although unfamiliar with both the broadway play and the original 1961 film I found this newest adaptation courtesy of Steven Spielberg incredibly easy to fall in love with. Steven Speilberg delivers a masterful hybrid of film and theatre that feels like a brilliant culmination of his life as filmmaker and testament to cinematic/ theatrical storytelling.
The film starts strikingly engaging with it’s ambitious longshot showing the remnants of buildings left vacant and discarded in rubble by the city despite the growing necessity for shelter for the growing number of immigrants. It sets the seeds of mutually assured communal destruction that will become the most prominent motif of the film and it’s ultimate thesis statement. From there it progressively builds on its underlying conflict with compelling character drama in an expertly woven tapestry depicting America’s prejudices and hate at its worst. West Side Story is about the progressive destruction orchestrated and subjected to by 2 opposing factions or communities as they argue and fight over their racial differences in a tragically real depiction of the underlying hate brewing under the melting pot of Cultures America had marketed itself as at that time. The setting of New York is used to brilliant effect as the film’s central stage serving as the stage on which its narrative of social tensions bubbling against the city synonymous with opportunity and liberty to foreign cultures. West Side Story tears away the facade and reveals the true suffering and hatred that awaits. The film delivers a satisfying narrative with resounding thematic conclusiveness across it’s impressive 2 and a half hour runtime. It starts strong and never slips up constantly adding fuel to it’s theatrical drama with shocking extremities and effective although not very subtle messaging.
West Side Story is a film that feels like it could only have been made by Steven Speilberg. After decades of experience where he has built universally revered filmography this project feels like the culmination of everything he’s learned. What Speilberg is able to achieve is an awe inspiring blend of theatrical stage performance and meticulous filmmaking. Every minute there are dozens of decisions, large and small sporadically happening to create an awe inspiring experience. He reels your attention in 1 direction before abruptly bringing it back around in a technique I can only describe as a ‘whip crack’ camera movement. The aggressive and meticulous movements of the dance sequences effortlessly guide the viewer’s attention in perfectly choreographed numbers. The entire world and city itself is part of the large-scale musical number being conducted, cars crudely interrupt the jet’s initial flash mob and the props of ordinary life are shaped into tools of expression and choreography. At every turn Speilberg is trying something new, heightening his ambition to an absurd degree, as though he was throwing his many toys and the setpieces they occupy like a handful of dice. He launches them into the air like a desperate gamble brought on by misguided confidence, “there’s no way he can pull it off” you briefly think to yourself on the edge of your seat. However there’s one thing you forgot, this is his game. It always has been. And just like that he rolls perfect 6’s every time.
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