Earlier this month, Turner Classic Movies hosted a special nationwide screening of my favorite musical, "West Side Story", in celebration of the fiftieth year of its' release. I've never seen it on the big screen before, so when an alert and thoughtful friend sent me a link telling me about it? You better believe I circled the ninth in red on my calendar. (That was a lie. I lead a quiet life, and don't really write things on a calendar. I'm more of a list making person. But you get the gist.)
Having put my poor husband through at least 23 television viewings of WSS in the past seventeen years, I wasn't surprised when I told him about the upcoming extravaganza and he looked as if he was passing a kidney stone. I was quick to reassure him that I'd find a victim ... I mean someone to go with, or heck even just have myself for company. (I do not understand people who have problems going to movies alone.) He was super relieved, and did remind me gently that Tony would indeed die this time too, only about 30 feet larger than I'd seen him die before. (I've jokingly asked him during each time I've forced this on him ... "Do you think maybe this one time Chino won't kill Tony? Do you think maybe this one time Tony and Maria can hop a bus to Somewhere and be OK?") Sigh.
So, I picked up the phone and called an old friend I used to work with in Detroit Public Television back in the day. I knew this woman would jump all over going to this flick with me if the date wasn't already taken, and happily I was right. We agreed to meet for a light dinner beforehand, as I stressed I needed a huge tub o' popcorn to fully enjoy the experience.
Turner Classic Movies did a bang up job of making sure you could find the theater with a showing closest to you on the big day. All you had to do was type in your zipcode, and Pow! Wacko Jacko! Down goes a teenage hoodlum! (And by this I mean a screen popped up telling you exactly where to go.) Thanks, Daddio!
Still my friend Marty and I found ourselves phoning each other and lost on the way to the restaurant. I was there a bit earlier than she, so I snapped some pics of the foreboding clouds.
The weather was definitely doomishly perfect, considering Tony and Maria's fate. You'd want to see this movie on a night like this. The arrow in the picture below is pointing the way to the AMC 30; a short drive from the diner where we ate. (I had the spinach salad.)
Are you getting excited? Am I building you up for the Big Show? Are you humming "When You're a Jet" yet?
So! After visiting the ladie's, Marty went for seats and I went for my Big Tub O' Popcorn. Here's a pic of my ticket stub while we wait in line.
Yep. Twelve smackeroos. And fiddy cents. I didn't bat an eyelash though. It's a small price to pay for Leonard Bernstein cranked up to eleven, and Steven Sondheim lyrics swirling around the theater. Small potatoes!
Not so for my Tub O'Corn though. I must not have been to a movie in eons. (It has been eons, as I can't even remember what I saw, and it was most certainly at a matinee.) But when the pimply faced kid behind the counter told me that I owed him $13.25 for my Coke and popcorn, I almost skivved him like Bernado did Riff. Much to the impatience of the hungry movie-goers behind me, I declared my own personal rumble on the management of the theater, who obviously thinks that charging $7.25 for a soda fountain drink that costs at most a quarter to pour, is fair. But the clock was ticking, and this is one of my favorite films, so I took a deep breath and put extra butter on my tub. (Hey! I told you I only had a salad!) And I headed to find Marty in Theatre Seven.
Marty was about two thirds of the way up, on the right almost to the end. I'd tried to talk her into one of the first ten rows, but her neck bothers her. I was square with that. Hell, who cares as long as I've got Tonight, Tonight? Right? So, I threw my coat around me like a blankie and settled in.
After the lights went down, TCM showed a long bit with host Robert Osborne on the making of the movie, with guests George Chakiras (Bernardo), Marnie Nixon (the singing voice of Natalie Wood) and one of the producers who I shall call Ancient Old Man. Marty and I (remember I told you we both worked in television together) agreed afterward that this half hour bullshit could have used a good editor. It was also waaaay disrespectful to Natalie Wood (God rest her soul) who Ancient Old Man and Marnie just trashed for being angry that her own singing voice was not used. I mean they went on and on about it. Hey! That was part of her deal with the studio (not written but implied). I would have been pissed too! Thank goodness George Chakiras spoke up for her and pointed out what a truly lovely performance she gave in this film. Classy move, George. (He himself won an Oscar for playing Bernado.)
I won't go into the play by play of the movie. Hopefully you know it, or I do believe I lost you about four paragraphs ago. Let's just say that my thoughtful friend who told me of the screening in the first place, asked me why I love WSS so much. And I have to say? It's a culmination of reasons. First and foremost; the casting is perfect. To this day, I cannot see Richard Beymer as anything but Tony, and every other Tony just isn't Richard Beymer! (When I first saw the film I was about 13, and I was in looooove with Tony. So imagine the first time I saw Chino shoot him! Crushed! See above conversation with husband.)
The direction is amazing in West Side as well. There were two directors and alot of bullshit in between, but Robert Wise gets most of the credit. (Jerome Robbins got fired midway through production, but was responsible for filming and choreogphing all but two of the musical numbers. He received a special Oscar.) The lights and shadows. The placing of the actors, just so (sometimes with symbols in the background.) The difficulty of filming the live dance routines and doing them justice! Wow!
And of course, the most obvious. The score. With lyrics by a very young Steven Sondheim (who must be a genius to ome up with words like this in his 20's), and music by Leonard Bernstein (one of my personal idols) the soundtrack to this film is hand in glove with the story. It's seemless. It's priceless. It's one of the best marriages of images and sound and words that you will ever see.
And it's funny in parts too. (Take the songs "America" or "Officer Krupke" for examples.) I really loved the fact that my 300 plus seat theater was packed. Only a few empty seats. And with people of all ages; from 8 to 80. We cheered at the end of each song. There were audible sniffles at several of the swoony Tony and Maria moments. The only part that sucked was when Tony was dying in Maria's arms and some clown says out loud, "Just take him to the hospital!" Assmonkey.
Although everyone shushed him and all was well for Natalie's big scene at the end. How fantastic was she? I still get chills thinking about it. "How many bulletts are in this gun, Chino? Enough for you? And you? All of you!" Heavy sigh.
I guess the biggest thing I love about WSS has got to be Tony and Maria. Their relationship is just so perfect and tragic and sad and lovely and ... doomed. Appeals to the romantic in me.
And I wish? (Aside from the fact that just once Tony wouldn't die?)That TCM would sponsor old movies on the big screen on a regular basis. After all, it's the way they're meant to be seen!
Thanks for the space to rant, Clark!