History of the West Side (PG13)
156 minutes, opens January 6, 3 stars
Three-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg made his Passion Project an update of the 1957 theatrical production – one adapted for the famous 1961 musical.
The big idea here is that to do the directing justice, it has to take place in a real New York City. Key scenes, particularly those featuring confrontations with dance sequences between rival Sharks and Jets gangs, are filmed on location – against back alleys and storefronts.
As ideas develop, that’s barely enough, especially when the alleys and buildings are idealized versions of the 1950s anyway.
But like it or not, Spielberg’s greatest contribution is to erase brownface’s legacy. The 1961 film version might be a classic, but like so many classic films, it’s erased by the use of white actors darkening their skin with makeup in order to appear more Latino.
Viewers can now enjoy songs by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim in one guilt-free package. This may sound like a trivial reason, but to reject it would be to downplay the importance of cinema as a value-maker.
Loosely based on Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet, the story takes place in the 1950s, when two New York gangs – the Sharks and the Jets – vie for dominance. Sharks are Puerto Ricans and Jets are white inhabitants who see migrant families as a threat to their way of life.
One night, Tony (Ansel Elgort), a friend of the Jets, and Maria (Rachel Zegler, who is making her feature debut), a disgruntled Puerto Rican migrant, fall in love. Ignoring the warnings from everyone around them, they go on with their business.
Key songs are here – including the love ballad Tonight, sung on the balcony by Maria and Tony, and Upbeat America, performed by an ensemble – with barely noticeable changes from the original lyrics and placement of the lyrics. musical segments in history.
Spielberg’s gifts as a storyteller don’t quite cover the film’s biggest demand – for viewers to come to terms with dangerous gangs working out their differences through modern dance – but he fully captures the exuberance that made from the 1961 film such a success.
The hand of God (M18)
130 minutes, Netflix, 4 stars