A rich and famous artist spends a hundred million dollars to revive a corpse with the blood of young people. The creature is still alive, but barely, and the infusion leaves it even harder than when it started. This isn’t the plot of the latest horror film from A24 but the unfortunate story of Steven Spielberg’s efforts to remake “West Side Story,” the musical about love and racial rivalry between New York City gangs. With screenwriter Tony Kushner, Spielberg attempted to fix the shady aspects of the 1961 film, including its arrogant portrayal of Puerto Rican characters and stereotypes of harsh New York. But instead of reimagining the story, they buttress it with flimsy new supports for sociology and psychology, along with a slight rearrangement. They have made ill-advised additions and misleading revisions. In the process, they were able to subtract a multiple from the original.
Like the first film, Spielberg is set around 1960 in San Juan Hill and Lincoln Square, at a time when much of the area was demolished. The surprise opening shot in the remake shows a mound of landscape dominated by a billboard proclaiming “slum clearance— to make way for a gleaming new complex called Lincoln Center. Racial tensions between neighborhood whites and Puerto Ricans are rooted in a battle over their shrinking terrain. While the area was sufficient for both sides, there is now only one place. (There is no indication of the fact that San Juan Hill was, in fact, a predominantly black neighbourhood. The film features a single black character with the role of a speaker, an arms dealer, played by Curtis Cook.) The filmmakers’ attempt to determine the cause of the rivalry between the Jets-Sharks reflects their more general turn, in the new film, toward Easy Psych.In the original film, directed by Robert Wise, The Jets are more than defenders of white interests; they are full-service bullies who harass white children too.For all its flaws, the original film doesn’t justify aggression – or racism – far Or shorten his characters to individual motives.
The original Tony, for example, wants to avoid fighting because he has a job and wants a better future than the one that seems to be waiting for his regular friends in planes. Not a single awakening prompted him to want to get out of the gang life. His decisions seem to follow the complex but incomplete impulses of his character. By contrast, Tony of Spielberg is a convict who spent a year at Sing Sing for a battle in which he killed another young man. He avoids planes because he doesn’t want to jeopardize his parole. When Reeve tries to convince him to participate in the “rumble” with the sharks anyway, Tony explains that he’s spent his time in prison grievingly examining himself and determined to live differently. Whatever Spielberg and Kushner have in mind, what they offer with this simplistic, dramatic story is an endorsement of prison: the film makes it clear that Tony got out of prison a better person than he did.
Maria has a fuller life in New York than she did in the 1961 movie. Originally, she had recently arrived from Puerto Rico for an arranged marriage with Chino. In the new movie, she’s been in town for years, taking care of her father (it is hinted that he’s dead), and she expresses, in one line, her desire to go to college. Bernardo is now a boxer who is just starting his career. Chino, an originally unidentified existence, is now at night school, studying accounting and adding machine repair. But nothing comes of these new practical affirmations; The characters don’t have a richer inner life, cultural content, or experience set than they did in the first movie. Maria still has little definition other than her relationship with Tony; It’s still coded as much as it was in the 1961 movie.
In fact, Spielberg’s film radically transforms the only scene in the original that conveys a sense of Maria and Tony’s family history, and it does so with a reverence that has embarrassed studio filmmakers until then. In the original film, Maria works with Anita at a local wedding venue owned by a Puerto Rican woman, and Tony comes to visit her there hours later. In a hilarious comedy sequence, they use mannequins to act out each other’s families meeting, until their pranks lead to a graceful increase in a mock wedding. In Spielberg’s film, Maria works in the Gimbals store as a cleaner for the night-work crew, and the graceful irony of a modest wedding in the Bridal Store has been traded for a formal pseudo-union at the outspoken religious venue of the Cloisters, at an altar in front of a stained-glass window. In another nod to the beneficial effects of his imprisonment, Tony explained to Maria that he first saw the monasteries from the window of the bus taking him to the prison.
Known for the return of Spielberg’s film, Rita Moreno, the original Anita, played Doc’s widow, the owner of a candy store and drugstore that serves as the Jets’ hangout. More Moreno is a winning formula for any movie, but even here Spielberg relies on its existence to justify his superficial and reductive choices. Valentina and the late Doc are portrayed as the primitive mixed marriage of the neighborhood, and Tony lives in the basement of the store – after his release from prison, Valentina gives him a job and a place to live. Now that Tony has met Maria, he tells Valentina that he wants to be “like Doc,” a role model of masculine virtue. In planning life with Maria, he not only follows the romantic dictates of his heart, but also takes a social model.
The cast and direction of the cast in Spielberg’s film seem oddly contradictory. Natalie Wood, of course, didn’t have a role playing Maria in the original movie, and her irrepressible presence couldn’t save the bleak, narrow role. In the film Spielberg, Maria Rachel Ziegler played, a young actress whose mother is Colombian. Unlike Wood, whose singing voice has been dubbed by Marnie Nixon, Ziegler performs her songs with a strong, sensitive voice. However, Spielberg directs her to act like a Disney princess, with over-simplified facial and voice expressions that reflect one unmistakable emotion at a time. Ansel Elgort, like Tony, has boyish bewilderment in his eyes, and if Spielberg were more interested in Tony’s life than in his checklist of motives, this advantage could have been put to great use. But Elgort is seven years older than Ziegler, and his tolerance for her is almost imperceptible. There is no chemistry, nor a meaningless encounter between equals.
There wasn’t much spark between Wood and Richard Baymer (the original Tony), and Wise wasn’t exactly Hollywood’s most daring filmmaker. However, he did find some inspiring solutions to evoke emotion on screen. For starters, dancing in the gym where Tony and Maria meet is more attractive than anything else in the Spielberg movie. In Wise’s version, the gym’s walls are passionately hot, painted an angry red, and the dance itself, unlike Spielberg’s movie, is downright sexy. When Tony and Maria see each other at the original dance, the entire gym is out of focus, leaving them with a surreal kind of tunnel vision for each other. Then the gym turns into a mysterious night space and the music turns on, the whole place becomes romantic with the power of their love. In the new movie, their meeting is face to face behind the stands.
The change is a symbol of Spielberg’s failure, because it is not only visual imagination and imagination that he cannot match. The best things in his version of “West Side Story” – the songs, its gravity, the standpoint of racism and class privilege – are already in the old version, while the best things in the old West Side Story are missing. There is no public insult by a white child police lieutenant, or racist yelling and outright threatening against Puerto Ricans, who reply with whistles, sarcastically, “My” tess to you. The end of the original, with restraint and simplicity, is overburdened with additional detail and grandeur. The new version conflicts with even the original’s basic sympathy. It includes a particularly strong version of the number “J, Officer Krupke,” as the planes mock informal diagnoses and sermons applied to them. and other alleged juvenile delinquents. But the 1961 movie doesn’t offer easy answers to their turbulent lives. It agrees with the song, even if by omission. By contrast, Spielberg offers the same kinds of diagnoses the song aims to ridicule – it is Krupkes himself who distinguishes The film leaves no loose ends, no ambiguity, no extravagance, no extremes. Instead, it enumerates themes and solutions with sincerity and earnestness, creating an airtight cohesion that seems to be due not to the positive composition of the drama but to the search for plausible denial in the court of critical opinion.