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Friday, May 29, 2009

West Side Story (1961)

There are many movies that have been adapted from screenplays or from books, and West Side Story is one of the most successful of the lot. The movie was adapted from a running screenplay of the same name, which was adapted from a very famous piece of work by Shakespeare called 'Romeo and Juliet'. The movie credits the direction by 2 people - Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Jerome Robbins was the first director, and he was also the director of the stage version, as well as being responsible for planning and directing all music and dance sequences in the film, as well as all the fight scenes. However, when around 60% of the movie had been shot, the producer of the movie (Robert Wise) felt that the costs had not been in check, and Robbins was fired. In the end, when the movie earned 10 Oscars (out of a total of 11 Academy Awards nominations), Robbins got a special award.

Poster for West Side Story, movie released in 1961 that won 10 Oscars

The concept of 'Romeo and Juliet' is an extremely old concept, valid in different cultures and across geographies. The theory that a girl and boy from 2 rival clans meet, fall in love, and fall victim to the enmity between their clans (and getting killed due to this rivalry) is something that finds mention in a lot of different cultures. This movie is also based on the same concept, with the clans being modified to be 2 different gangs set in New York in the 1950's. These are 2 rival gangs called the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks (and these are composed of members from different racial backgrounds), fighting for supremacy over the New York neighborhoods in which they operate.
The romantic duo are Tony (Richard Beymer), who is a former member of the Jets gang (and also its co-founder), and Maria (Natalie Wood), who is the sister of Bernardo (George Chakiris), the head of the rival Puerto Rican immigrants gang, the Sharks. These 2 meet at a dance, to which Tony has gone to convey a message about a challenger between the 2 gangs, something that would decide the rivalry once and for all.
The movie is a musical, so there are several song and dances about the tension in the gangs as they proceed to a final rumble (the challenge) between them, along with the excitement in the life of Tony and Maria as their love increases. The story climaxes when Maria requests Tony to stop the rumble, and Tony is subject to ridicule from the gang members when he tries to stop them. His attempts are met with scorn, and the Jets head Riff cannot stand to see this ridicule of his close friend and starts fighting with Bernardo. In this tussle, Bernardo kills Riff, and Tony kills Bernardo in revenge. At this point, the police arrive and the gang members disperse.
Maria is informed by another gang member Chino (Jose DeVega) about the fight and about Tony killing her brother. When Tony arrives, Maria is very angry, but Tony manages to convince her by detailing what happened at the fight, and by offering to surrender to the police. However, the story happens in tragedy when Tony and Maria are about to meet, Chino comes in and shoots Tony. It is in this tragedy that the gangs unite, when member of both gangs carry Tony's body.

Academy awards:


Academy Award for Best Picture – Robert Wise, producer
Academy Award for Directing – Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor – George Chakiris
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress – Rita Moreno
Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Set Decoration, Color) – Victor A. Gangelin and Boris Leven
Academy Award for Best Cinematography (Color) – Daniel L. Fapp
Academy Award for Costume Design (Color) – Irene Sharaff
Academy Award for Film Editing – Thomas Stanford
Academy Award for Original Music Score of a Musical Picture – Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Irwin Kostal, and Sid Ramin
Academy Award for Sound – Fred Hynes (Todd-AO SSD), and Gordon Sawyer (Samuel Goldwyn SSD)


Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium – Ernest Lehman