I’m supposed to be finishing up a major project for school (my last major project for school, other than my thesis next semester), but I just turned on the TV and somehow stumbled across the fact that public television is about to show West Side Story. So I’m still working on my project, but I’ve set the DVR, and I imagine I’m not going to be able to keep myself from watching. Whenever I end up watching, I’ll give you a little play by play here. Hopefully you’ll get a sense of why I love this damn show so much.
8:48: I’m watching part of Talladega Nights to get ready. For West Side Story. I’m not sure anyone has ever said that before.
9:00: We’re under way with the pregame. They’re doing background and history. It’s interesting. I’m not going to transcribe any of it, other than the fact that it won TEN Oscars. We’re about to see the opening sequence. It’s probably my favorite opening sequence in any movie ever.
9:04: It’s these opening shots of New York that kill me, I think. There’s something about them being shot straight down as opposed to at an angle that feels so clean and geometric and perfect for what we’re about to watch. And then right to the playground, and the Jets in their brightly colored jackets, and BAM–the snapping. It’s all set-up already. It’s all there.
9:07: They’re not showing it in wide screen. That’s going to be a problem.
9:08: This is all negative space and minimalism. And the little girl (Latina?) drawing in chalk on the playground — we’re already right where we’re going to end up. There are non-Jets playing on the playground; they’re harassed, but not really given too much of a hard time. I’ve paused this thing like ten times already, and they haven’t said a word. God damn I love this movie.
9:11: I’m not sure I can running diary this. There’s too much going on. I’ll try to process in smaller chunks. Here’s all I’ll say until the commercial: I know that people give the “dancing gang” a hard time, but really watch what’s happening here. These are “tough” guys the same way any gang is “tough” — through a series of gestures and posturing that shows group unity and discipline. It doesn’t take much to get that idea across. And then smack in the middle of their first real outburst — BERNARDO. The entire picture is painted as soon as they see him, and we haven’t even heard a word yet.
9:14: Bernardo walks, and he picks up the other Sharks, and now they’re snapping, and they’re dancing, and oh snap — they’ve cornered two of the Jets who were trying to intimidate them, and oh snap — now they’re outnumbered again. And dance becomes a celebration of power for the Jets now, the joy of brotherhood and the protection it can provide. And now it’s the dance as violence, starting small and personal before exploding into gang warfare — sanitized, yes, but still about oneupsmanship and humiliation. The new Broadway version is being described as highlighting the real potential for danger that exists under all this, and that’s definitely got a lot of potential as an approach, but this version goes the opposite route — presenting it all innocently and kind of beautifully, with the violence implied.
9:21: Something I forgot about the beginning of this: there’s almost camraderie between the Jets and Sharks at the beginning, at least when the cops show up. It’s a youth culture thing, really — at base, you’re closer to the folks you’re age that you’re fighting than the authority figures trying to shut you down (even if race and ethnicity and culture are involved). That’s a part of the tragedy of the show (and of youth violence in general): a failure to really choose your battles.
9:27: “When You’re a Jet” is so frigging perfect. That is all. “Every Puerto Ricken’s/a lousy chicken” — what a line.
9:31: The storytelling in this show is immaculate. There hasn’t been a wasted moment yet. I’m not a huge fan of Tony and his songs, but everything fits and moves the story forward. “Something’s Coming” becomes more complex when you’ve seen the whole movie already (that’s an obvious statement, I think), and the shots of the fire escapes are–
RITA. I’m going to stop writing now and watch Rita.
9:36: Natalie Wood ain’t so bad either. The fade to the dance is a little cheesy, but it works for the time. The “Puerto Ricans” can’t really handle the Spanish. And then there’s Gomez Addams! I forgot about that. And here comes the dance. The fact that they’ll even agree to the “getting to know you” dance places this at such a specific historical time — even if they just quit on it. We still haven’t wasted a second in terms of stroytelling here — everything that happens happens for a reason. And the dancing here is just remarkable.
9:45: MY GOD THIS MOVIE IS PERFECT. The love at first sight moment — Tony and Maria see each other across the room in the midst of the high-octane, violent-undertoned dance sequence, and everything fades down and becomes restrained and quiet and simple, right down to the tiny little snaps as they look at each other and dnace together, and the dance keeps going on, only it’s slow and quiet, and it builds back up right as they kiss — and guess what? It’s all storytelling. The love at first sight moment doesn’t stop the story to bask in its own loveliness — it drives Bernardo into action, pushing him to agree to the war council. And poor Tony stumbles out of the dance, singing “Maria,” and maybe, just maybe for the first time, we’ve pulled off the straight storytelling track for a second — although it’s obviously going to be important later.
Wow — a thousand words already. Time for a new post.