'West Side Story': Spielberg's Fifties Film Breaks Down |  NDR.de - Culture - Film

Status: 09.12.2021 6:00 AM

The soundtracks for many Steven Spielberg films have become world famous – such as the music for “ET” and “Jurassic Park”. He has now made a musical for the first time and has brought Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” to the big screen.

by Katia Nicodemus

It is the most powerful and beautiful scene in this new version. A group of young men and women from Puerto Rico paralyze an intersection in New York. They’re dancing in the street, letting go of their legs and skirts, stopping traffic. “America” ​​is a musical account of the supposedly unlimited land of opportunity that Latin American immigrants do not have at their disposal. Race conflicts between Puerto Ricans and Americans from Europe are at the center of this musical, which premiered in 1957 and was filmed by Robert Wise in 1961.

West Side Story: A special experience for young Spielberg

Steven Spielberg speaks at the movie premiere "West side story" In Los Angeles.  © Walt Disney Studios

As a boy he fell in love with original Broadway music, says Steven Spielberg of “West Side Story.”

15-year-old Steven Spielberg listened to the soundtrack of the first movie over and over again. “West Side Story” became a formative experience for the director, an expression of the American attitude to life. Spielberg is now back in his childhood. Its musical adaptation is a nostalgic and somewhat elegant reconstruction of the 1950s. Here the skirts rustle, the boys’ hair sizzle, the wide limousines slither through the streets of New York.

Present-day America remains closed, though timeless themes are negotiated: studio buildings merging into a city in turmoil. In the background, you can see excavators and construction cranes, the upper western part being flattened. The housing of the lower classes disappears.

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Ethnic conflicts on social parties

Ansel Elgort (left) as Tony and Rachel Ziegler as Maria in a scene in the movie "West Side Story © Walt Disney Studios |  Nico Tavernes

Tony and Maria fall in love – but their love must last so long.

Young white Americans who form a gang called the Gates feel rejected by society. They look to Puerto Rican immigrants who blame them. Tony, the young hero of Poland’s “West Side Story”, lives at the bottom of society. He was in prison because of a quarrel. Now he is trying to build a life outside of gangs.

He does not yet know that he will fall in love with Maria: the Puerto Rican young woman lives in her brother’s apartment. She confidently expresses her longing. In Spielberg’s film, the colors are rich and bright. Youthful skin glows like movie posters from the 1950s. Life here is very bleak and difficult. There is a racial bias and virility. In this Upper West Side, you can fall fatally in love with the wrong person without even realizing it.

West Side Story: There is no bridge to the present

Precisely because Steven Spielberg is so completely recreating the 1950s, one wonders why he didn’t bring the musical to America’s here and now. Because his film adaptation does not build a bridge to the present. She has no new idea or vision for the “Romeo and Juliet” story. Instead, it immediately rolls in a very decorative fashion into the sterile space of a costume movie. Maybe you should just close your eyes and immerse yourself in the new recording of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. And really massive singing 20-year-old Rachel Ziegler as Maria.

West side story

production year:
Production country:
United States of America
Steven Spielberg
157 minutes
from 12 years old
Play release:
December 8

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NDR culture | Classic a day | 09.12.2021 | 07:40 AM

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