Wednesday, 18 February 2015

West Side Story (And Other Stories)


Before we begin I should explain what this blog is about. I have an aversion to musicals. Or I thought I had. Until I shared a house with and got to know Dr Carrie Dunn. Since then I have gradually been watching various musicals. Some on stage. Some on film and some both.

Last month we put this process on a semi-official basis. An education in musicals has begun. It started with Guys and Dolls, the 1955 film starring Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine. I liked it. But I've liked Guys and Dolls since I saw it with Ewan McGregor back in whatever year it was. Carrie filled me in on the changes made, usually because Frank wanted them and we had a good laugh about the idea of Frank as Sky Masterson. It wouldn't have worked. Brando's excellent and 'Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat' cemented its place in my favourite scenes/songs list.

We've also watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Film), Phantom of the Opera (Film and Stage), and The Sound of Music (Stage). This will matter later when my Pointless League Table goes up.

Now, West Side Story.

It's not that great. Sorry.

From its plodding title sequence through its unconvincing street gangs and over-made up George Chakiris to its incredibly inept police department I found it all rather silly and tedious. Even the songs with the exception of America hardly impacted on me at all.

It's no coincidence that America sticks. It's given oomph by Rita Moreno - who is the best thing in this film. In fact I want a musical called Anita, which tells her story. With the doomed couple left in the background. Anita's given a horrible time.

Actually Natalie Wood's acting is excellent. Her grief and rage at Tony's death is genuinely moving and uncomfortable to watch. George Chakiris is pretty good to, although I'm not quite sure it was worthy of a Best Supporting Actor Oscar (although I say that without bothering to look at who he was up against.) Richard Beymer as Tony I have forgotten almost entirely already, except for his impressive teeth.

Whilst Wood's acting is great her singing voice is provided by Marni Nixon and whilst it is obviously a good voice it didn't work for me as either the characters voice or how I imagine Natalie Wood sounds. Too pure, too clean and just too perfect. Maybe it is just me.

We all know this is loosely based on Romeo & Juliet. The problem is I find Romeo & Juliet less good as I get older and I found myself lacking much love for Tony or Maria. Perhaps I'm just an old grump but for heaven's sake stop being so stupid. I don't dislike them as much I do Cathy and Heathcliff for example but get a grip for heaven's sake.

So, I'm afraid West Side Story finds itself at the bottom of my Pointless League Table of Film Musicals, which as of today is:

Guys and Dolls
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Phantom of the Opera
West Side Story

Next month: Oklahoma (1955)