That the master Steven Spielberg is a cinematic genius is a fact that no one can question at this point. Throughout his career he has given us titles that have ranged from science fiction to the historical genre. Always with tenderness, sensitivity, historical accuracy and respect, Spielberg has signed titles such as the endearing E.T.. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) or the impeccable masterpiece Schindler’s List (1993). The director is venturing into a genre he had not yet touched, that of the musical. And what a start! He does it with nothing less than the remake of West Side Story (1961), a true gem of the genre that seemed impossible to surpass. But, as expected, Spielberg’s version does not disappoint.
West Side Story: one more film adapted to the 21st century
Steven Spielberg did not have it easy to adapt the original West Side Story to our century, although there are always misgivings about remakes of prestigious films such as this musical, the truth is that the filmmaker has done an impeccable job. Spielberg has managed, if this was possible, to surpass the original film at times. In this version, the main characters sing in their own voices and the Puerto Rican characters are, in effect, Latin actors. In addition, Spielberg takes the characters off the sets to shoot many more exterior shots.
A Tale of West Side Story
West Side Story, one of the greatest musicals in the history of cinema, premiered on 18 December 1961. The film, which has just turned 60, quickly became a critical and box-office success, winning 10 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor. The film, which was actually born as a play that premiered on Broadway in 1957, soon made the leap to the big screen, as the idea of adapting the story of Romeo and Juliet to our time was very tempting and augured a guaranteed success.
West Side Story directed by Robert Wise, who initially had little experience in musicals, changed William Shakespeare’s conflict set in Verona between the Montagues and the Capulets to pit two gangs, the Sharks (Puerto Ricans) and the Jets (of Polish origin) against each other in a struggle for control of the streets of the West Side in 1950s New York. It featured Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, who had to be dubbed in because they could not sing. This was not the case with Rita Moreno, an excellent dancer who won the Oscar that year for Best Supporting Actress. The actress made history by becoming the first Latin American actress to win this award.
One of the film’s greatest successes was its unbeatable soundtrack with scores by Leonard Bernstein. The music of West Side Story became one of the best-selling records of the 1960s. It stood out for its great variety. Latin rhythms and jazz mixed with more romantic themes fitted perfectly with a choreography full of innovative dances that were perfectly integrated into the action of the film.
Steven Spielberg once again gives visibility to issues of racism and discrimination
Although the 1961 version already dealt with issues such as the difficulties faced by immigrants in integrating into another country as well as xenophobia and racism with great sensitivity, Spielberg includes in his remake more current issues such as inclusion and discrimination based on sexual identity (incorporating an LGTBI character) and violence against women. the 156-minute remake of the legendary musical features newcomers Maria (Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) as the young lovers, and David Alvarez and Ariana DeBose as Bernardo and Anita, respectively. Spielberg reserves a role for Rita Moreno, who plays a decisive role in this new version as the link between 1961 and 2021.
The filmmaker has respected Leonard Bernstein’s score and the lyrics of the recently deceased Stephen Sondheim’s songs with great skill. All in all, a masterpiece of repetition. Spielberg manages to keep the myth intact in a kind of veneration of the classic work by showing us a work that is identical and, at the same time, completely different. The number I like to be in America is magnificent, filmed, this time, with a spectacular street-side display, full of colours, capable of leaving even the least enthusiastic of the musical genre with their mouths open.
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