I love the Academy Awards and last year I realized how few of the “Best Picture” winners I’d actually seen. So I made it a goal to see all 83 winners and blog my thoughts about them along the way.

Why did it win? Should another movie have won instead? Has it become a beloved classic or do many of you not even recognize the title? I invite you, my friends and guests, to comment along with me. Do you agree/disagree? I should be fair and place a SPOLIER ALERT on this blog since I’ll be writing about various parts of the movie. So read at your own risk…

I have often told people that I have movie amnesia… I can see a movie and forget all about it years later. So for that reason, I am re-watching the 27 I’ve seen before. That said, if no one visits or reads my blog and I basically perform the online equivalent of talking to a brick wall, that’s fine; if for nothing else, it’ll be my own reminder. Enjoy!

And the Oscar goes to…

Sunday, October 16, 2011

West Side Story, 1961

Not Rated

One of the greatest musicals of all time won Best Picture when it was adapted for the big screen in 1961. I doubt that anyone out there is completely unfamiliar with the storyline, but just in case, it is a modern-day (in the ‘60s) version of “Romeo & Juliet”. Two gangs of teenage boys (of different races) fight to defend their turf and their pride on the streets of Manhattan. Maria, (played by a not-at-all Puerto Rican Natalie Wood), falls in love at first sight with Tony, a “Polack” from the city. Pride is too important and unfortunately meaningless deaths occur, although only one of our star-crossed lovers dies at the end of this story.

I’m being completely honest when I say I didn’t know the feuding was due to race when I watched this when I was younger… very young. Race was one of those things I didn’t really seem to notice. Much like I didn’t even know the Cosbys were African-American. I figured the “Jets” and the “Sharks” were fighting because they were silly boys and that’s what testosterone can do to a male. (I still think fighting is silly, though.)

The soundtrack, in my opinion, is classic and flawless. Every song is meaningful and well placed in the story. Many of them have beats that make you want to get up and dance along with them (although I doubt you’ll look as graceful and athletic as them). I’m dedicating this post to my Dad who went around the house singing any one of these songs throughout most of my childhood, including some of the dialogue like, “Now I know Tony, like I know me” (said with a thick NY accent).

The dances’ choreography is beautiful and the dancers perform it with such stunning synchronicity. In fact, choreographer Jerome Robbins was awarded a special statuette at the ceremony for his remarkable achievement in the art of choreography. There’s also great camerawork during the dance scenes. Sometimes the camera is slightly above them in order to see their formations.

And speaking of camerawork, it was almost as if they took the rules of the theatre to heart in the film version as well: in the majority of the scenes, no one is really blocked from the camera. In groups, they are strategically placed so that the audience can see every face. See below:

I particularly noticed the costumes this time around and how the different “sides” were in similar hues at the town dance. The “Sharks” and their girls were decked out in purples, reds, and blues, while the “Jets” clashed with their mustard yellows, oranges, and grays.

“West Side Story” won an amazing ten of its eleven Oscar nominations and was up against “Fanny”, “The Guns of Navarone”, “The Hustler”, and “Judgment at Nuremberg”. I haven’t seen or heard of any of those. This was the first (and only) time that co-directors have won the Best Director(s) award (Robbins and Wise). Natalie was not nominated for Best Actress for this role, but she was for her role in another movie this year “Splendor in the Grass” (which I didn’t particularly enjoy). Interestingly, both leads’ singing voices in this film were dubbed over by other voices. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was another film that came out this year but wasn’t nominated for the top award; it did win Best (Dramatic or Comedy) Score and Best Song ironically!


I like to consider myself a dancer, even though I haven’t done so regularly since high school (aside from the time I took ballet when I was pregnant). This is probably why I’m drawn to the main dancing scene of the film where the two gangs refuse to mingle while doing the Mambo, among other dances. (It reaffirmed why I like watching “Dancing with the Stars”.)

This time, I particularly enjoyed the pretend wedding scene in Maria’s family’s dress shop where she and Tony confirm their love for each other. I thought the angle they shot it at was unique.

And as lover of psychology, one of my favorite songs is “Officer Krupke”. The Jets sing about their juvenile delinquency and it is quite witty, while at the same time, sadly and considerably true.


Don’t be so territorial (or too proud). Those boys needed a lesson in sharing space.

Do not tolerate bullying. But don’t combat it with fisticuffs.

I still pray that someday, we’ll find a new way of living, and a way of forgiving. There’s a need for more compassion and humility in our world. We need to tone down our selfishness and think of others.


  1. What about a lesson of love and how this story illustrates the scripture passage, "love covers a multitude of sins?" There is something to be learned from the relationship between Tony and Maria.

  2. I don't know... I was always a little skeptical of Romeo and Juliet's "love"- they didn't even know each other! I believed it to be more teenage passion. And to be honest, it bothers me that Maria is practically unphased that her brother was just killed and immediately consummates her reationship with his murderer. In this version of the tragic tale, yes, something can be learned from Maria's not wanting to murder (or commit suicide) for murder. She recognizes the violence has to stop somewhere.

  3. “Now I know Amy like I know me” ... cause she’s a “family girl” who always “walks tall.”
    Why? ... “cause she’s a Jet, the greatest!”

    Dad :-)