Thursday, June 10, 2004

West Side Story would probably have been a much much better movie had it been a dance-musical without dialogue. Alas, the movie does have have characters that talk and one cringes to hear them sometimes. When Natalie Wood makes her climatic speech over her dead lover's body "All this happened because of HATE", the more cynical among film viewers might burst into laughter, while the more restrained ones (I count myself among them) would merely squirm in their seats and wait for the scene to end. It is said that the redoubtable Pauline Kael called Wood "machine-tooled" and her character "so banal that she destroyed all thoughts of love." Typical Kael! Maybe its just the way the character is written. What, for example, can one say about Wood's character Maria, who at one point (when her lover has killed her brother), tells her lover, "Hold me! Tighter!!", and goes limp in his arms? Wimpy, I thought, as I watched the movie. Get a hold on yourself, girl.

Without those jarring dialgues though, the movie is marvellously choreographed by Jerome Robbins and has a fine score by Leonard Bernstein. The first set-piece begins with a stationary frame, continues into gorgeous overhead shots of Manhattan and then zooms right into a basketball court to introduce us to the Jets and the Sharks. The greatest compliment comes from Roger Ebert who says that if street gangs could dance, they'd have danced like the Jets and the Sharks. And they would, really. Robbins manages, by the sheer force of his dancers' moves, to bring out the arrogance, the power, and even the fights. (I've never seen anything like the Rumble which is a dance-fight scene.) The movie comes alive during the dances, in a way, that makes it seem even more dissapointing when it's characters start talking. The foot-tapping number America is easily the finest in the film and the dancing in Cool is simply breathtaking.

There is a performance in the movie that is brilliant, moving even, but it belongs to Rita Moreno, who plays Bernardo's girlfriend Anita. The scene were she almost gets raped by the Jets is the most harrowing scene in the film. (Even this has been choreographed as a dance.) Her dancing, her dialogue, even her singing carry the kind of conviction that no other actor is able to match, except while dancing.

1 comment:

Vipul said...

Hey Shreeharsh,
You probably don't remember me...or maybe have only a faint memory of who I am...I was in the comps dept. at VJTI, same batch as yours...
Don't ask me how I came across your blog...well, mostly by wandering through orkut and looking up people on the web...I think...
Anyways, pretty cool blog this...couldn't believe someone from VJTI would be this interested in movies and television...reading this was great...agree with what you say about WSS, especially about the movie being brilliantly choreographed...in spite of the icky dialogue, it still is a wonderful, very enjoyable movie...although SRK's acting (well, his ticks and mannerisms, if one can call that acting) comes to mind whenever I think of WSS and that does make me cringe(yeah, kind of stupid, I know)...hope will be able to go through the other posts properly...

-Vipul.