Screenings of the film West Side Story down in the Big Apple; A Special 40th-year Anniversary screening, October 2001. Five Years Later, Another Trip:
It was eight years ago last October, in early October 2001, less than a month after Sept. 11, that I’d driven down to NYC for the special 40th-year anniversary screening of the great, venerable classic film, West Side Story, at NYC’s renowned Radio City Music Hall, where my friends and I had a wonderful time. Radio City Music Hall had been filled with an exuberant, friendly crowd, and there’d been much finger-snapping and applause from the audience.
Five years later, in mid-October of 2006, again, I drove down to the Big Apple for yet another screening of the venerable classic film, West Side Story. This time, seeing the link for the weeklong screenings of West Side Story at NYC’s Clearview/Zeigfeld Cinema on another website, I couldn’t resist the temptation, and I was determined to go down to NYC to take in yet another screening of this great film. After thinking about it, I phoned my cousin, who lives on NYC’s Upper West Side, and spoke with her at length about it. Since she was headed for upstate NY over the weekend, and her other nights during the week were busy, we decided to take in Tuesday night’s 8:15 screening of WSS. Attempts on my part to obtain the tickets online failed, so my cousin willingly and graciously got the tickets for us.
Leaving home at around 9:00 a. m. that Tuesday morning, I arrived in NYC shortly after 1:00 p. m. and waited around, enjoying the nice, crisp sunny October day and talking to people, until my cousin arrived home from work, at around four o’clock. After relaxing for awhile and having a light, quick dinner, my cousin and I took the subway downtown to mid-town Manhattan, where the theatre was located. What a wonderful evening that was–there was a beautiful new print of the film WSS, and the screen was big and long. As always, on the great big, wide screen, West Side Story could be seen in its entire glory, the way it was meant to be seen.
All of the cast members, from Tony and Maria, to Doc, to the warring jets and Sharks, seemed to come even more alive and to move much more freely and fluidly, in a much wider, more open space. This was true of even Richard Beymer, who was a weak, lacklustre Tony.
The soundtrack seemed to sound richer, and the richly-colored costumes and photography also took on a more intense dimension. In short, the entire film of West Side Story, from the opening aerial shots of NYC’s West Side, to the playground skirmishes between the Jets & Sharks, from the romancing Tony and Maria and Bernardo and Anita, to the Rumble and the Cool scenes to the graffitied credits at the very end of the film seem to take on a magical, almost 3-dimensional quality when shown on a great big, wide movie theatre screen.
Although the evening screening of West Side Story didn’t quite sell out, it was, in fact, very well-attended. Russ Tamblyn does a wonderful job as the exuberant, wacky, acrobatic Riff, as do David Winters as A-rab, Elliot Feld as the immature, constantly awed and frightened Baby-John. The same is true of Tony Mordente, who does a fabulous job playing the role of the hot-tempered, instigating troublemaker of the Jets, Action. Tucker Smith does an equally fantastic job playing the role of the handsome, calm, cool and collected Ice, who ultimately takes over the Jet gang leadership after Riff’s death in the Rumble.
The role of the sardonic, but hot-tempered Shark gang leader, Bernardo, is fabulously played by George Chakiris, as is the role of Bernardo’s girlfriend, Anita, who is a feisty firebrand of a girl, by Rita Moreno, who does an excellent job. Simon Oakland also does an excellent job of playing the bigoted, cantankerous Lt. Schrank, and Bill Bramley also does well playing Officer Krupke. All told, WSS is a very strong movie, with a very strong cast, most of whom had been in the original Broadway stage productions of West Side Story. This, coupled with Jerome Robbins fantastic choreography of the dancing–(might I add that the dancing in West Side Story is also one of the things that makes it so great?) is also terrific.
Although Richard Beymer definitely played a rather weak, lacklustre Tony, he, too comes off as being somewhat more vital and alive on the great big, wide movie theatre screen, plus he’s more than offset by the wonderful performances of the other actors/actresses in the film West Side Story.
The Clearfield/Zeigfeld Cinema in NYC is a beautiful old theatre, very handsome and palatial-looking inside, that was converted into a movie theatre from a place where much live theatre, including vaudeville, had been performed previously. It’s the perfect place for such great old films, or films, period, imo. After the screening, my cousin and I went back to her apartment, which is in a rather funky upper West Side neighborhood of Manhattan, and, the next day, in exchange for staying at her place, when she went off to work, I tuned her Mason-Hamlin grand piano, which made her very happy. All told, it had been a wonderful time. After another day in NYC, I drove home the next morning, after thanking my cousin for the WSS tickets, and her hospitality. It had been a wonderful two days. Visiting my cousin, who I hadn’t seen in afew years, plus taking in a wonderful favorite classic film combined to make a wonderful mini-vacation. That Friday night, I attended a West Side Story singalong screening near where I live. WSS played to a sold-out house!! It, too was lots of fun. Although there are other movies that I’ve liked well enough to see more than once, and there are afew movies of today that I’ve liked well, West Side Story holds a special place in my heart, and, more than likely, always will.
Now, as everybody knows, West Side Story is a film that, although I’ve seen a number of films, both old and new, that I’ve liked well enough to see more than once, I can’t enough of–something about West Side Story brings me back to see it time and again.
Most movies, be they new or old, are not movies that I’d go out of state to see screenings of–however, West Side Story is special enough to do that, in my book.
There’s yet another reason, however, that West Side Story has remained as special as it is. It’s true that many, if not most of the actors/actresses who were in the original Broadway Stage production of West Side Story were also in the movie version, and that Jerome Robbins choreographed the dancing for both the original Broadway stage productions and the film version of West Side Story. For better and worse, Jerome Robbins was a tough taskmaster and a perfectionist, who made the cast members work hard enough until they dropped, sometimes literally.
However, there’s yet another reason why West Side Story remains as special as it is: Unlike many, if not most other musicals, which have been cheaply re-made and made into somewhat more up-to-date, mediocre revivals, the creators of West Side Story have fought the good fight for, and stood their ground regarding the preservation of the integrity of their materials and their masterful creation(s), which they have felt was more important than making money hand over fist. Having said that, I believe, that, even though Robert Wise had originally approached and selected….would you believe….Elvis Presley to play the part of Tony in the film version, that WSS might or might not have become stale ages and ages ago, due to being turned into another Elvis Presley flick.
There are people who think that Larry Kert, who played Tony in the original Broadway stage productions of West Side Story, would’ve been utterly fantastic as Tony in the movie version of this great, dynamic musical. It’s possible, but who knows. Politics, as usual, I believe, are what led to the casting of Richard Beymer as Tony in the film version of WSS, which, unfortunately, was not a good choice, but, then again, who really knows??
Here’s an afterthought: Since West Side Story is my alltime favorite movie, I have driven down to the Big Apple from Boston twice in the last five years specially to see it, in addition to having driven to places such as Hanover, NH, Providence, RI, as well as having attended virtually every screening of the film West Side Story here in my area. The one exception was in mid-March of 2001, when an afternoon screening of the film WSS in my area conflicted directly with my late dad’s memorial, so I didn’t attend that afternoon’s screening.
To quote the MGM adage on this great keeper of golden oldie-but-goody classic film, “ West Side Story, unlike other classics, grows younger.”