Friday, February 13, 2009

Movie Journal: West Side Story

The classic musical West Side Story is actually in many ways based on another classical and widely-acclaimed work of fiction. Am I going to tell you what that piece of fiction is? Of course not. That would be a major spoiler. But I will tell you that West Side Story holds it's own, and it's novelty is so striking that I wouldn't be all that surprised if the author had never heard of the work of fiction I have in mind.

The location in which the story takes place is within the crowded west side of Manhattan, where local hoodlum gangs battle it out for control of the streets. Our hero Tony used to participate in these territorial struggles, but has moved on and now has a job. He has the distinct feeling that something worthwhile is just around the bend.

Meanwhile, the gang called "Jets" has been pushing around the recently immigrated "P.R.'s" ever since they arrived, and the the Puerto Ricans are starting to feel like pushing back. This is one of those movies that if I get into too much detail, I'll give it all away, so I'll leave the specifics at that.

The dancing, singing, and choreography are some of the best I have ever, ever seen. Various songs will either get your blood pumping extremely fast with exciting dance moves and acrobatics, or even slow and soothing yet hauntingly nostalgic songs of love and adoration; the latter of which you are in some cases likely to never forget. I'm afraid that you can't call yourself much of a fan of musicals if you haven't seen this movie. The way the different characters express themselves through both song, gestures, and very carefully constructed dialogue, is so vivid and believable that it's almost impossible not to get sucked into it's world.

And yet, around halfway through the movie, all the singing and laughing and dancing suddenly take a bizarre turn. Perhaps one of the reasons this movie has such an average viewer rating on movie sites is because the manifestation of the film's darker side is a rather harsh wake-up call, even if a necessary one. One of the reasons the ending stuns you so much is that deep down, you didn't believe it was going to happen. The world isn't that cruel, is it? But it is. West Side Story points you straight in the face and says, "This is what you've done," and you can't help but walk away feeling convicted and ashamed, knowing that you yourself are guilty of these same crimes in your own way.

No other movie has accomplished the projection of such a powerful controlling idea without getting preachy, and un-entertaining. And yet, West Side Story stays gripping from beginning to end. It's one of the few movies I have dared to describe as "Beautiful." There's only one other movie I would dare compare it to. And so, when you see my rating of this movie, don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that it's perfect or flawless in any way, only that it's truly in a league entirely of it's own.

10 out of 10

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