I’m embarrassed that I shot my mouth off about how much I like the 1961 version of West Side Story to a friend from Puerto Rico. He was offended by the original. No excuse, but each time I watched I commented on how wack it was that there were only two Puerto Ricans in it. Tito said it was fluff. He was right.
It’s the artistry of the choreography that’s so compelling. West Side Story is a musical. It’s supposed to be over-the-top. The New York street accents are stereotypical, but that goes with the over-the-top framework of a dramatic musical. Gang members are pirouetting on a basketball court.
It’s hyperreal. But I appreciate that it reflected the period that it was in. Spielberg recreated elements of that period through the lens of 2021, which ironically makes it unrealistic, something he was implying about the original West Side Story.
In Wise and Robbins’ 1961 version, the dance at the gym was sexy, which an article I read said as well. That was the point at which I turned the 2021 version off. I couldn’t take anymore. Spielberg’s back story and psychoanalyzing sucked the energy out of the dancing. In the original, the way those dancers moved was supernatural. Russ Tamblyn’s the man, by the way. The dance at the gym is my favorite scene in the original. I finally went back and watched the rest of the 2021 version and reaffirmed my opinion about it.
Enough people liked Spielberg’s version and needed to see all the psychoanalysis. Spielberg should have made a completely new movie about all the issues he wanted to address. A realistic remake of a musical is a different movie.
And…ah…anybody notice that one black dude that inspired Spielberg to include the black gun salesman and black subway passengers in his movie?