This is an old assignment that I did years ago for my film analysis course.
For this assignment, I have chosen to look at the critically acclaimed film adaption of West Side story. This film holds many accolades including Best Picture for the year of 1961 and many others that the list of awards could feel up a page alone. The story while not very original as it is an adaption of Shakespeareâ€™s Romeo and Juliet is a wonderful retelling and I consider it the best film version of Shakespeareâ€™s classic love story.
As stated above, the story while one paper isnâ€™t very original as it is an adaption but its originality comes from the way the story is told. The story does rely on the tropes and characteristics of Romeo and Juliet but they donâ€™t use it as a crutch because while there are similarities, the film does make the wise decision of making certain changes so that the film is the same story beat for beat.
One of the bigger changes that West Side Story makes is that while at the end of Romeo and Juliet, both the main leads, die, here only Tony, the Romeo of the film dies. Though having only the male die in this story seems more tragic as the audience sees Maria break down and how the hatred between the gangs has angered her. Her anger over the loss of not only Tony but her brother is best summed with this line, â€œAll of you! You all killed him! And my brother, and Riff. Not with bullets, or guns, with hate. Well now I can kill, too, because now I have hate!â€ (Wood) This line helps to conveys how Mariaâ€™s feelings towards the events that take place throughout the film. Going back to the similarities that this film shares with Romeo and Juliet, it isnâ€™t obvious to the viewer if they have never seen or read Romeo and Juliet. Still the similarities are there such as the Jets serving as the Montagueâ€™s and the Sharks fill in for the Capuletâ€™s. As stated above though, this story uses the elements of Romeo and Juliet but it knows how to use the elements from the story rather well.
The area where this film truly shines and perhaps best remembered for is its soundtrack. As with most good musicals, this film uses the songs to either advance the plot or develop the characters and let us in on their lives a bit more. My favorite song, â€œGee Officer Krupkeâ€ reveals information about the personal lives of the Jets such as has one has a brother who is a cross dresser and anotherâ€™s father is in the slammer. This song while comedic in nature does shed light onto why the Jets act the way they do. The film also uses songs to lighten the mood after tragic events and to also give the audience, the belief that everything will turn out all right in the end such as after Tony has killed Mariaâ€™s brother, Bernado, we see Tony and Maria singing â€œSomewhereâ€, which gives the audience and the characters a glimpse of hope that there is a better future around the corner. Something that impressed me with the song, â€œA Boy Like Thatâ€ is able to change the character of Anitaâ€™s view on Tony. That is until she goes to find him and runs into the Jets who harass her as she ends up telling them that Maria is dead.
This brings me to the acting in this film. Natalie Wood as Maria and Richard Beymer as Tony are so convincing in all of their love scenes that it is easy to believe they truly love each other and would go to great lengths to protect one another. I think the best scene that shows how much Maria cares for Tony would be right as he is dying and there is a reprise of â€œSomewhereâ€ sung by Maria. With this scene, it doesnâ€™t feel as though Natalie Wood is acting but rather she has become the character of Maria and she believes the words she says and that makes her performance feel genuine.
West Side Story does deserve all of the awards and accolades that it has received over the years as it was able to take a story that was well known and put a new spin on it. The modern setting makes the story of Romeo and Juliet more accessible but it never dumbed down the story. All of the elements in this film come together seamlessly for a wonderful viewing experience.