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“In Robert Wise’s 1961 West Side Story ”
West Side Story is a 1961 American musical romantic drama film directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins.
Robbins technically “co-directed” but he was canned a month and a half into principal photography. As director and choreographer of the original NYC stage show, Robbins received co-director credit for directing the dancing scenes with Wise handling everything else. Due to Robbins’ rigorous perfectionism, the shoot fell 24 days behind schedule after 45 days of shooting. His creative contributions were profound but generally speaking a director or co-director who is relieved of duties a month and a half into filming has an asterisk next to his or her name.
Is there a reason you’re disguising your typical disdain for Stevie through the lens of honoring the original vision of Wise? Did you share disdain back in the day when Rob Marshall did the inverse of Wise and angled every song through the mind and imagination of Roxie? Just take the piss outta lil Stevie Spielberg like you normally do and move on…
Not so much the “original vision of Wise” as the basic concept of the stage show and indeed of many if not most musicals.
As I noted above, one of the ironclad West Side Story rules (observed on stage and screen) was “civilians aren’t allowed to participate in or even acknowledge dance scenes” — only Jets and Sharks and their immediate allies. Because the singing and dancing is happening only in the heads and hearts of these principals.
A few extras and passersby are seen here and there but outside of the big dance hall sequence they never stop and gaze at the dancing. Even costars Simon Oakland and Ned Bramley (Det. Shrank, Officer Krupke) and Ned Glass (Doc) are excluded from even witnessing the dance sequences. Which is why a sidewalk crowd watching and presumably enjoying a daytime dance number featuring Anita and Bernardo and other Puerto Ricans is a violation of the basic rules.
If Spielberg wanted common pedestrians and passersby on the sidewalks for realism’s sake during this daylight dance sequence, he should have directed them to just go about their normal business and maintain regular behavior without stopping and acknowledging the dancing — then it would have been okay. But once they stop and look and acknowledge the skillful, high-end choreography…penalty buzzer!
In Guys and Dolls bystanders join in the dance number, do a few steps, then move on like nothing ever happened. Not sure what you’re getting at here, chief.
I’m going to assume his point is that in most musicals like this, the big dance numbers either involve everyone in the scene who then go on like nothing happened (e.g., “Skid Row” in “Little Shop of Horrors”), are done where it’s “in the heads” of the characters and everyone is oblivious, or it is part of the plot (e.g., the big dance show in “Grease”). So, by that logic, this somehow needs to be in the third category and our esteemed host is not sure how it could be…
Apart from the dance-hall sequence where Tony and Maria first meet, the rules of West Side Story require that passersby and civilians are oblivious to the dancing. There’s no ambiguity here — civilians don’t stop and gaze at the choreography.
Um…I was actually agreeing with you…
The ” Shine On Your Shoes” number from BANDWAGON , set in a Broadway amusement arcade, only works because of the reaction of the crowd observing and approving the proceedings. I actually spoke about this with Jerry Thorpe, BANDWAGON’s assistant director at the time, who handled the extras here and was justifiably proud of his contribution in bringing the scene to life…
The onlookers look on approvingly, but without apparent surprise that Astaire is spinning around the arcade or that he and the shoe shiner are in such glorious sync. I don’t think this sequence negates Jeff’s point. Of course some of the numbers in BW are designed as stage performances.
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I made it very clear what I’m getting at. Try re-reading.
The Guys and Dolls system is okay, by the way — civilians briefly participating in the dancing but then reverting to normal behavior…that works.
Oh, I read what you wrote. I just don’t see the point (aside from being a Spielberg contrarian and generating clicks).
West Side Story is a piece of fiction. There are no “ironclad rules.” If Spielberg wanted to set the story on another planet and make the Jets Alpha Centaurians and the Sharks Proxima Centaurians, he could.
By your logic, West Side Story violated the “ironclad rules” of Romeo and Juliet by not setting the story in Italy and by making the duels dance numbers. I swear, sometimes you’re as bad as any sci-fi fanboy and their obsession with “canon.”
You’re completely ignoring my very clearly stated point. All musicals are bound by certain rules. Re-read above.
How does the “I Should Have Known Better” number in A Hard Day’s Night square with your “all musicals are bound by certain rules?” Need to get the boundaries squared away.
That one peculiar Hard Day’s Night performance scene defies the system & makes no sense. But Richard Lester did it anyway.
I’m really gearing up for hearing a new version of “Gee, Officer Krupkey”, what a classic. And talk about reading the room – seize that zeitgeist, El Beardo.
It’s more realistic for bystanders to acknowledge action goin* on around them. If they join in, it can be so much and magical. Hence:
Nonsense , that is exactly what you can expect in a Latino neighborhood , people joining in swaying , bopping to , engaging in the music. The first movie is and was a masterpiece , this movie should not and is not intended to compete or compare but to be an update and hopefully a masterpiece in its own right. Lay off the uninformed criticism until after you see the finished product yourself.
The West Side Story rulebook is what it is — civilians of any ethnicity may not acknowledge dance numbers.
So “King Richard” really stunk up cinemas, huh?
No, it didn’t. It’s a first-rate drama that unmistakably connects with viewers. You’re just piss-trolling and you’re not hijacking this thread either.
A crowd-pleaser without a crowd.
Interesting point. Until Cabaret musical numbers in musicals were never, except in rare instances, designed as performance. Backstage musicals being an exception. But generally the numbers constituted a continuation of life and behavior in the particular fantasy realm of the movie.
And that is true whether the whole world is dancing as in Guys and Dolls or Brigadoon or just the principals.
In On the Town a portion of the opening number is shot in Rockefeller Center. The army of onlookers is carefully cut off at the top of the frame to preserve the illusion that Kelly and friends are just doing what they do.
Deliberate inclusion of onlookers really is a violation of this basic movie compact. In a musical you have to be all in on the alternate reality.
Thank you, Brenkilco — so far you’re the only commenter who gets my basic, obvious point.
Would Bobby Van’s five minute hop across the MGM lot from SMALL TOWN GIRL work if there was no one around to observe it ?
The difference I think is between characters designed to be real world observers and those who are part of the heightened world of the musical. Since nobody calls the police or the medics on Van and since the number ends with what seems the entire town magically massing and clapping in rhythm to a tune that only exists in the musical world I don’t think S T G violates the rules.
That’s been bothering me, too. “America” was performed on a rooftop with the Sharks ladies and gents arguing about the quality of life in America vs Puerto Rico – but it was very much a back and forth plus and minus guys vs girls scenario which is why it’s one of the best pieces in the film. I really can’t figure out why they’ve now reset it in the DAYTIME on a street with extras lined up on each side. Doesn’t work at all. Can’t think of even one good thing.
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