The only-in-Hollywood story behind Steven Spielberg’s West Side glory

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Directors Steven Spielberg and Rita Moreno on the set of West Side Story.Photo by Nico Tavernis/20th Century Studio

Is calling Steven Spielberg our greatest living American filmmaker honesty or year-end movie madness?


Consider the evidence: 33 films over five decades, half of all-time classics essential to the cultural environment, the other half at far less ambitious, remarkable, indelible. As author Molly Haskell puts it in her essential-read 2018 biography Steven Spielberg: A Life in Films“If he hasn’t touched every heart and mind with every picture, it’s guaranteed that he’s touched even the harshest critic with one or two, or three.”

An antidote could be made for Scorsese, Tarantino, the Koons, and other giant geniuses, who are regularly classified as darker, colder than Spielberg. But Spielberg has provided more cinematic entertainment, joy, comfort and emotional walloping than anyone else – and the sheer financial success of his work ensures that he was seen in more places, by more people than any of his contemporaries. Is.

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Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story is vivid, sweeping, beautiful filmmaking that captures the power of Hollywood

Now, with this month’s release story of the west, his first musical to date, the filmmaker offers a surprise we should have even guessed: the final Steven Spielberg film. Not the best or the most important, but the most Spielbergian – a film for which the king of Hollywood has devoted his whole life.

The New Film – A bright and bold and brilliant romance that centers on, if you somehow didn’t already know, two 1950s New York gangs, the white boy Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, whose young lovers Tony and Maria at war Included is an open-hearted celebration of all that big-budget, high-craft, go-big-or-go-home movies have to offer. That Spielberg in particular can and does offer over and over again.

The film is a remake, an opportunity to engage with the past while communicating with the future, only adding to the peak Spielberg-ness. There is always a childish sense of wonder and sometimes horror in his films about what the world is and could be. Here, is the entertainment that enthralled him as a child—the director still remembers how much his 10-year-old self listened to Broadway soundtracks after being brought home by his mother—but revisited and revisited by the 74-year-old. :referred to- he has become an old artist.

The film is Spielberg’s first musical film.Photo by Nico Tavernis/20th Century Studio

But, okay, wait a second: maybe story of the west Not really a remake. The film’s song sequence hinges on the 1957 Broadway production, not the 1961 film (audiences are particularly shaken by the placement of I feel great) and there’s no real imitation of director Robert Wise’s onscreen beauty or Jerome Robbins’ choreography. Certainly don’t make the mistake of calling it a remake to Spielberg’s face — or more specifically asking him if he has any concerns about remaking another filmmaker’s work.

“I don’t panic at all because I haven’t remade any other filmmaker’s work,” he says. “All of our choices and our inspiration were just taken from the original Broadway musical production. And we were very, very careful not to do anything that was a remake of a Bob Wise and Jerry Robbins movie. We went straight to the source material, which of course based on some other source material, Romeo and Juliet,,

the morning after story of the westThe New York premiere — very early morning, probably the earliest film junket I’ve ever attended — and made Spielberg available via Zoom for exactly nine minutes and 52 seconds. Because she is who she is, Spielberg delivers maximum entertainment-journalistic transactional impact amidst the pressure of the Hollywood propaganda machine. So even though I’m outside interview number 5 or 6 that day of god-knows-how, he peppers the conversation with kind chuckles and personal-touches on the contents of my bookshelf — even though his Zoom background is a simple blue. The screen, with all signs of exclusivity erased, an unsettling but fitting environment for the man who uses the blank digital canvas to make the unreal real.

Back to the question of remake-or-not.

“The Story of the West” has been performed thousands of times around the world, and each time it has been performed, even though the text is the same, the actors and directors and designers, each story of the west There’s always been a different interpretation built for the stage,” he continues, smiling but also a matter of fact. “So I felt absolutely no guilt or anything that I was on the toes of Bob Wise’s film. was doing anything to step in, because we drew all of our inspiration from the original source material.”

ok so Spielberg’s story of the west Robbins is a “reimagining” of a Broadway work conceptualized by composer Leonard Bernstein, songwriter Stephen Sondheim and writer Arthur Laurent. The film’s official press notes sometimes contradict this – “word that Spielberg was interested in a remake of the film had been circulating on Hollywood and Broadway for many years, as it was widely understood that the director was from the estate. so loved” goes one line, while another segment quotes Bernstein’s siblings Alexander and Nina as saying, “We were so honored that Steven Spielberg was going to remake the movie”— But this can be chalked up to the vague through-line of the role of originality in Spielberg’s oeuvre.

Their Indiana Jones Saturday morning serials and movies are riffs on Allen Quatermain Pulp. Close Encounters of the Third Kind And at B-movies are serious-minded works. war of the Worlds It has clear antecedents. what else Jurassic Park if not dino-size update done by (Though I think author Michael Crichton is more responsible there). it is not so story of the west Whether or not Spielberg’s first remake – that honor belongs to his 1989 romantic fantasy Always, 1943′s. based on A boy named Jo. Is,

What is certain, no press note is required, that is story of the west Spielberg’s first musical. After a lifetime of dramas, thrillers, fantasies, horror and more, man has never touched anything that is, on paper, the most Spielberg-y of the genres. The musicals are large, detailed canvases for filmmakers who, unlike some directors, are hopelessly incurable film-lovers: all soaring emotion and vivid visuals. Spielberg had considerable practice in this area – he wrote the score for his first amateur film, 1964. Fire, and longtime collaborator John Williams once said that the director could have been a musician in Another Life. So, politely, why did it take him so long?

Spielberg’s West Side Story is a ‘reimagining’ of a Broadway work.Photo by Nico Tavernis/20th Century Studio

“Courage, lack of it,” Spielberg says with another laugh. “I thought it was a genre that needed something to earn me my stripes. I needed to get to a certain point in my life, my career, where the biggest leap I could take, the biggest rock I’d ever taken, before I was able to fully pace Standing – picture music.

“As you know, I’ve made movies in every genre imaginable, and the press has probably been asking me ever since. at‘What didn’t you do?’ I have always maintained that I have never done music and have always wanted to. I’ve developed four or five musicals in the last 40 years that I’ve never done. i tried to turn hook In a musical! No one knows there were nine songs written by John Williams and Leslie Bricus that I threw out at the last minute. ,

when the opportunity finally came story of the west, Spielberg felt that he “earned the right to take a huge leap forward after such a long career. … It was able to overcome any fear of failure. I have reached such a point in my career.” where i can say that failure is a choice.but i’m still going to take that chance because i love story of the west How much more.”

It is safe to say that Spielberg story of the west There is no hint of failure in this. Reunited with trusted collaborators – wrote screenwriter Tony Kushner Munich And LincolnCinematographer Janusz Kaminski has shot every Spielberg film since 1993 Schindler’s List —and gathering a fascinating cast of young, mostly new-to-screen faces (the biggest name is baby driverAnsel Elgort, who plays Tony), each of whom is put through the paces by acclaimed choreographer Justin Peck, with Spielberg creating a pure pleasure machine that plays like the platonic ideal of Hollywood moviemaking.

Spielberg has insisted in the past that he has no “personal style” – but story of the west He is everything we came to know about a Spielberg film, which could be bestowed with the quality of a man who makes the impossible easy.

Later Schindler’s ListOf course, Spielberg said he had a “responsibility … I want to go back and forth from entertainment to socially conscious films.” Practically speaking, it was played as a The Lost World: Jurassic Park for everyone Friendship, a war of the Worlds for one Munich, but story of the west Feels the closest amalgamation of these twin desires, more than any of its 21st century outputs.

Unlike the 1961 adaptation, 2021 story of the west Makes it a point to cast an exclusively Latinx cast for each Shark character (and also invents a supporting role for Rita Moreno, the only Puerto Rican-born cast member to play a major role in the original film). . What’s more: Spielberg omits subtitles whenever the characters are speaking Spanish—which accounts for about 40 percent of the total onscreen dialogue.

“In the beginning, Tony” [Kushner] And I decided to have respect for them …


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