Thoughts on a Remake
Despite its flaws, West Side Story (1961) is my favorite work of art. It’s not an exaggeration to say it is one of the things that sustained me through an unhappy youth. I’ve seen it umpteen times and listened to the soundtrack and sang along for decades. So when I heard one of the world’s great filmmakers, Steven Spielberg, was remaking it, I was very interested, although nothing would replace the special place the original holds in my heart. I’m not going to argue which is better. I’m too biased to be objective. Instead, I will express my thoughts on the latter, keeping in mind I’ve seen it only once, and that my opinion might change, although the only way I may ever view it again is if it is broadcast on one of the major networks. I enjoyed it. All the actors are good, although none has the star power of Natalie Wood or Russ Tamblyn. Tony Kushner’s screenplay hits home from the start. The area will soon be cleared, the residents evicted, to make way for Lincoln Center. This amplifies the senselessness of the turf war that will be fought to its bitter end — such is man. A quick shot during the prologue of the local shopkeepers caught between the madness of the gangs also is first rate. I quickly noted that the orchestration seemed toned down, which did not change much when I turned up the volume. Was it me? Given the gritty realism that follows and remains throughout the narrative, I sense it’s intentional. The original is frequently over the top, occasionally goofy. The remake is more grounded — outside people breaking into song in public. Several characters are given more depth. Tony has spent a year in jail for nearly killing someone in a fight. Riff is a sullen sociopath rather than a charming rogue. Chino is a sensitive nerd. Anybodys has a bigger role. Bernardo is a boxer. Maria is feisty rather than angelic. Parents are MIA. The casting of Rita Moreno as the deceased Doc’s wife, running a drug rather than candy store, is masterful. It too heightens the tragedy. The coupling of those pioneers has done nothing to lessen racial strife. All this is good stuff that might disappoint only purists. But it makes no sense to make a carbon copy remake. The shift of America from the rooftop to the streets is inspired. Spielberg follows the sequence of the stage production rather than Robert Wise’s film. If I remember correctly, lyrics have reverted to Sondheim’s first completed Broadway drafts, at least in several instances. And two key scenes are in different places in the scenario. Years ago when I first heard that Cool is in the early going in the stage production, I was aghast. It is perfect where it is — post rumble, everyone on edge. I still feel that way. The staging of it is the film’s only misfire. I Feel Pretty, on the other hand, although it seems odd coming after the deaths, works because it follows true life, one never knowing when a bombshell is on the way. Fortunately Maria’s powerful soliloquy after Tony’s death seems word for word. The quirky charm of those members of the Jets featured in the original is absent, and I missed it. Of the cast, Ariana DeBose as Anita steals the show. Iris Menas as Anybodys is terrific. I will not mention box office or IMDb rating or Oscar nods, as they are irrelevant when it comes to art. Kudos, Mr. Spielberg. In my mind, West Side Story remains the greatest story ever told. Here are Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler, a Jersey girl 18 at the time of shooting, as the star-crossed lovers:
And here is Ariana DeBose as Anita. Like Moreno, she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance:
And Iris Menas as Anybodys:
Headline from nypost.com: “Democratic cities get a taste of the overwhelming cost of open borders.” Kudos to Texas governor Abbott and his Arizona counterpart Doug Ducey for busing the illegals to liberal bastions.
Amusing NYP headline: “White House to fill gaps in Trump’s border wall after Biden pledged not to build any more.”
Not much action today at the floating book shop. My thanks to the elderly woman who bought More Than Friends by Barbara Delinsky, and to the middle age one who purchased Seeking Him: Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and Tim Grissom; and to the gentleman who jumped on Hamlet by the guy who wrote the play on which West Side Story is based, what’s his name.
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