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.