The second act of West Side Story (1961) starts on a romantic note, but the film’s gang war soon sours romance into rumble. Even as Tony and Maria make plans to run away from the West Side, the tension between the Jets and the Sharks threatens to destroy their relationship before the lovers get their chance. Act II realizes this contrast between love and violence in its third musical number, “Tonight – Quintet,” in which the plot strands developed in the solo and ensemble numbers of Act I compete against one another and seek to drown each other out.
Tag: Robert Wise
In translating the groundbreaking 1957 stage musical, West Side Story, to film, the producers knew that a work whose claim to fame was its gritty realism should only be more true-to-life on the big screen. Robert Wise, a director better known for his noirish city dramas than fanciful entertainments, brought a down-to-earth sensibility to a work that, on stage, might seem to be simply a slightly edgier musical set against an urban backdrop. On film, we are thrust head-first into the streets, with their palpable energy and danger. Wise’s disinterest in theatrical razzle-dazzle is striking throughout, but especially in the film’s opening sequence: a bird’s-eye view of the Upper West Side playground in which we meet our two warring gangs, the Sharks and the Jets.
To take a line from The Wizard of Oz, “we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.” Except this time, Dorothy’s a newly transplanted alien named Klaatu, Toto an 8-foot-tall steel gargantuan named Gort, and Kansas a post-WWII America. Even though over 60 years have passed since Robert Wise’s monumentally impacting sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still was released, the parallels between then and now are still interchangeable.
Sex. It’s a great motivator. We see it in movies all the time. A loser/cad/playboy reforms himself after falling in love with the woman of his dreams. He changes his wicked ways and learns to think of others just to win her dainty hand. I said sex though, right? Well, sex and love get blurred a bit in the movies. So, what would happen if, instead of inspiring him to be a better person, the desire for another person does just the opposite? What if pairing with just the right…or wrong person reinforces his badness or spurs him on to ever more horrifying acts?
In many ways, Robert Wise’s 1971 thriller THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN is cut from the same cloth as the dozens of other sci-fi films dealing with the potential end of the human race due to some alien virus. Its plot, adapted from Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name, is not terribly original, but the film still makes for an intelligent and visually engaging watch. For better or worse, the influence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY essentially hits the viewer over the head throughout the movie, both in its stylistic and thematic elements. Wise’s film similarly strives to depict man’s progression towards abstraction and away from humanism, so that the result is an emotionally unaffecting work.
THE HAUNTING is an undeniably classic horror film. Even to this day, the black and white film can still scare audiences without the crutch of over-the-top special effects or gore. Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House (a beautifully written, and equally terrifying haunted house story), the film sets itself apart from its source material. It is, instead, an exploration of a woman’s descent into hysteria, and the consequences of taking her far out of her regular surroundings.
The Sound of Music – 1965 – dir. Robert Wise
Only The Sound of Music and the great Julie Andrews can make me break my vow to never write about a film in the first person.
I remember as if it was yesterday, walking the happy mile from my house to the Strand Theater in downtown Lowell to see The Sound of Music. I was to walk that happy mile at least 8 or 9 times more to see it again and have seen it dozens of times since. I never get tired of it, watched it recently, as if for the very first time. It is as fresh as the day it was made, a steady friend to anyone who loves its company.
By KJ Hamilton
West Side Story – dir. Robert Wise – 1961 Theatrical Trailer
I have a confession to make: I really don’t like love stories. Why? Well, they usually end up one of two ways: Happily Ever After (which is the stuff of fairy tales) or one or both of the lovers die (and I wonder what the point was). West Side Story is the latter, although there are many different levels to this film that I wonder about. For example, although this story takes place in the 1950’s, it is still relevant today. There are still turf wars, and people are still dying for the sake of trying to carve out a niche. That may be an over -simplification, but the fact of the matter remains that it’s beyond unfortunate that rivalry like this still exists. This story has always been a commentary on the social aspects of a society that doesn’t understand its own place in the grand scheme of things.Second: although this love story is hundreds of years old, it’s still poignant, and it doesn’t have to relate to race, it could be wealth, social standing, background, etc. This story has been done and redone; why do people still find it so fascinating? Why is the idea of the rich socialite falling in love with the delinquent biker rebel, for example, so intriguing that it’s retold again and again? Perhaps it speaks to the core of who we are as people and as a society.