BEGGING FOR IT
Westside Story almost begs you to go at it. Natalie Wood is no Puerto Rican, Richard Beymer is no star, Sue Oakes as probably the first unambiguous dyke in an American musical, and the Jerome Robbins choreography isn’t really much more than highly disciplined high school gym exercising wrought with anxiety. (Said musical supervisor Saul Chaplin of the dancers, “They didn’t dance out of joy, they danced out of fear.” That context different than my own: a nineth grader impressed by the dancing, I’d put the soundtrack on the old Grundig Majestic and recreate the jumping until I spained an ankle.) Then again, purple dressed dancer Rita Moreno and purple shirted dancer George Chakiris won supporting performance Academy Awards for kicking up some sizzle between them, and in this movie that may be the equivalent of a San Fran tremor. Would hate to have to imagine what this hyped primer on the dangers of racism would have been like without their zesty, sassy version of “America.” This is a musical in which the term “cinematics” can be used without fear—why Bosley Crowther got away with the blurb a “cinematic masterpiece”—because that’s all there is. Everything is too deliberately set up—every close up, medium shot, long shot, every angle and every bit of editing prioritized for the effects of urban reality as socially relevant “art.” The harder the movie makers strive to achieve it, excepting “America,” the more synthetic it feels. And taxing: looking awfully pretty, Natalie Wood just ain’t cuttin’ the rug as Juliet-Maria; her accent isn’t acting—it’s an update on the artificial she tried on us in The Burning Hills and Kings Go Forth. She was reportedly deeply upset when learning Marni Nixon would dub her warbling, but together they compound the fraud. Beymer’s Romeo-Tony is the linchpin to the tragedy. An impossible task because when Tony implores avenging Chino to kill him, there are many watching who want to pull the trigger. Beymer earned two coveted Harvard Lampoon honors for his request: Worst Actor and Least Promisng Young Actor; Wood won the Roscoe Award “for so gallantly persisting in her carerr despite a total inability to act.” The Lampoon’s Merino Award went to Moreno “for saving the movie from Beymer and Wood.” Other Oscar wins: best picture, color cinematography, color art-set direction, sound, scoring for a musical picture, color costumes, film editing and direction, shared by Robert Wise and Robbins, the latter fired for escalating the budget by $300,000 due to his “perfectionism.” Filmed in Panavision 70.
ROLL OVER IMAGE
Text COPYRIGHT © 2000 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.