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: West Side Story
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.
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.