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WEST SIDE STORY

USA, 1961 (MIFF 1995, Robert Wise Tribute)

Director: Robert Wise


"With West Side Story, suddenly i became a musical director."

Robert Wise drew upon all his directorial resources in this leap to yet another genre, and with his collaborator, choreographer Jerome Robbins, created a dazzling, contemporary musical.

This 1961 film was a monumental success, win­ning ten Academy Awards, including Best Pic­ture and Best Direction. The soundtrack was an all-time best-seller. Now Robert Wise himself has supervised this splendid restoration. But forget all the credentials-the film is alive.

Screen red, rhythm staccato, the colour wash­es, shifting with the music. (Saul Bass, who did the credits for Psycho, Goodfellas and The Age of Innocence, is at work here). Not character, but colour, dance and music, along with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, make the story. Choreo­graphed encounters, battles between the Jets and Sharks galvanise the idea of fighting/danc­ing to dominate space.

Bernardo (George Chakiris), a Latin peacock, and his partner, Anita (Rita Moreno) steal the film. Swathed in mauve, all hot energy, Anita leads the Puerto Rican girls in praise of America—later she is the centre of a scene in which race and sex hatred is palpable, the results fatal. For West Side Story is full of hate, and love doesn't triumph.

Sondheim is still embarrassed when 'Puerto Rican' Maria sings I Feel Pretty. ("You know she would not have been out of place in Noel Cow­ard's living room"). But Natalie Wood—diminu­tive, chocolate-brown eyes and all that romantic longing—is no embarrassment. She moves through the film from 'baby' in virginal white to 'widow' red-dressed and black-scarfed, capable of indicting the Jets, the Sharks and the police. The futility and vitality stay with you.

See also...

BLOOD ON THE MOON

... ... Robert Wise was winding up his working rela­tionship with Howard Hughes' RKO studio by 1948 when he directed B!ood On The Moon, a film he considered his "first big feature." He took Luke ... More »

BORN TO KILL

... ... Intensely cold, blood-curdling and emotionally spare, Born To Kill is knockout noir. A grim and at times complicated picture, it features a youth­ful Lawrence Tierney as a near-robotic ... More »

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

... ... A pivotal science fiction film, the themes explored in The Day The Earth Stood Still have been recurrent since Wise depicted visiting alien diplomat Michael Rennie and his mono­lithic ... More »

THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE

... ... At the beginning of an era of trashy B-horror and sci-fi, Wise attached himself to sound features with intellectually satisfying metaphoric bases, remarkable visual aesthetics and ... More »

THE SET UP

Director Robert Wise's ninth feature in five years, after a lengthy apprenticeship in the editing department, The Set Up was also his last at RKO. ... The film started life as a poem by Joseph ... More »

THE HAUNTING

... ... After seating the ambitious heights of West Side Story (1961) and steering star vehicles like Two For The Seesaw (1962), Robert Wise's 1963 version of Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of ... More »

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