I could smell the sweat! West Side Story (1961) on the Big Screen

What a night! My first time watching a classic movie on the silver screen!

Turner Classic Movies presented West Side Story(1961) in movie theaters all over the country last Wednesday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this Academy Award-winning retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Everything that is great when viewing it at home is even better on the big screen! Why? The details! The details that I never noticed before are now inescapable.

The big screen makes you very much aware of the grit and grime of the story.
  • Tony has a ring around his collar during the "Something's Coming" number. A gangster gone straight, he's a working man now with the sweat to prove it. Good for him. 
  • What I thought was a beige tile floor in the Sharks' tenement is actually a white tile floor with smudges.
  • Dear Graziella, your beautiful burnt orange dress has armpit stains. I wish I could unsee them.
  • A copy of Trumbull's Declaration of Independence is so dingy that you barely notice it amongst the filth on the wall during the war council scene.
  • When Action points his grimy finger at the camera, "pulls the trigger" and  yells "pow!," what seems hokey on TV becomes menacing when the little guy with the jazz hands is 30 feet tall.
  • Tony, Riff, Bernardo, Chino, all of you! How much Brylcreme does a guy need?  You look greasy.
Little details - like how the gangs showcase their solidarity in their clothing- are easier to catch in the theater. 
  • The archer bands on the Sharks' wrists are a dramatic statement even on the small screen. But note that when we first meet the rival gang that many of the Jets wear their belt buckles on the side.
  • Throughout the film, the Sharks can be found in reds and purples. Dominant colors for the Jets  are gold and yellow. You'd notice the colors in whatever format the movie is in, but on the silver screen you notice sumptuous details in the fabrics! Tony is not just wearing a yellow jacket at the dance, he's wearing a velvet goldenrod sports coat.  Maria is not just wearing a white dress (which symbolizes her lack of involvement in gang life); it has little white curlicues embroidered throughout which add to the child-like quality of the outfit and to the innocence of the character.
  • The color schemes come in handy when Maria and Tony profess their undying commitment to each other. We know they are serious, not just because of the stellar acting, lighting and music, but because the costume designer, Irene Sharaff ,dresses the couple in their rival's color. In the "wedding" scene, Maria wears a pale yellow dress - the Jets hue. Tony wears Maria's "family color" close to his heart - an aubergine lining in his varsity jacket (something I wouldn't have noticed except on the big screen). The former leader of the Jets is becoming a Shark from the inside out! Also note that the banded collar is pulled back slightly like a lapel, revealing a slight floral pattern; it is as though he is wearing a buttonhole at the "wedding".
    Adhering to family colors........................................................... Beginning to switch colors and allegiances
    An observation from my mom:
    • "I don't remember the colors being so bright! Is our copy in black and white?"
      What with fast forwarding to my favorites parts at home and not having seen the entire thing in one viewing in a long time, I'd forgotten how detached from reality these characters are. For instance, if some dude that I'm engaged to kills my brother, the wedding's off. Murder would be a deal breaker for me. But it isn't for Maria, who plows through several stages of grief within the course of 5 minutes and finishes a make out session with Tony just before a policeman shows up. Ah, the movies!

      That's my red carpet experience. What is yours? Did you go?


      1. I love this. Your observations are so astute and enlightening. I've never seen this film on the big screen, but I'm going to remember your comments the next time I have a look at it on TV. I won't see the detail you did, but I'll know it's there. Great post, thanks so much.

      2. Java, it sounds like an amazing experience! I love how you describe feeling the sweat and grime...there's just nothing like watching a classic on the big screen. I've been fortunate to see three of my faves in theatres, to include THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. Each viewing was a tasty treat.

      3. I was in awe on Wednesday! What a rush it was and must have been back in 61!

      4. Java,
        What a fun and 'colorful' review!
        Very entertaining and I hope you don't mind if I feature your West Side Story article on my sidebar.
        (Oh, I never noticed the 'belts on the side' but I try to get through musicals as fast as possible, even excellent ones like WSS)

      5. Java I've seen West side Story on the big screen many times, glad you got to experience it. BTW the Blu ray of West Side is being released tomorrow Tuesday Nov 15th, I can't wait

      6. Jacqueline T Lynch,
        It was an awesome experience. Anita's voluminous purple skirt looks even more commanding when it's that huge! I'm so glad you enjoyed this. Thanks.

        I would sell my [insert name of valuable object here] for a chance to see ROBIN HOOD on the big screen! Do you have a post about it or other classic films you've seen in theater? I'd love to read your take on it all.

        Mick! I'm so glad to see you here again. Wasn't WSS just wonderful? "Rush" is definitely the appropriate word.

        How did your production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers go? I'm sure everyone loved it. I did and I wasn't even there. Did anyone notice your blue-ish plates on the Pontipee cupboard?

        Thank you for the feature; I truly appreciate it.

        What about musicals makes you want to fast forward? Is it the stopping the dialogue to sing and dance? The omnipresent invisible orchestra that shows up and knows the hero's key, and other implausible stuff like that? Are they just longer than necessary?

        I'm really inquisitive. :)

        What has your experience with big screen classic movies been like?

        I had no idea bout the Blu-ray release. I've never seen a movie on Blu-ray. Is the quality better than a regular DVD? Do you get more bonus features?

        Thank you to everyone for stopping by.

      7. LOL at your mom and her "black and white" comment. Seeing our favorite classics on the big screen is always an incredible experience. So glad you enjoyed it, and I loved reading all your observations!

      8. I am currently playing "Arab" in a stage production of West Side Story and I have been back to this post many times! Our version is a happy medium of the Original 1957 Broadway production with enough of the 1961 movie mixed in to keep it Nostalgic. (I thinks its funny that I landed the Role of Arab, because 2 years ago I played "Gideon" in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Russ Tablyn) and Here I am in a later Tablyn role! I had the biggest fight over designing and set dressing for this show with management... is there anyway you could email me? I'd love to send you pictures and tell you all about it!

        1. Mick, You've made my day! Thanks! I hope you have fun with WSS. I will email you.

          -- Java


      Thanks for your contribution to Java's Journey.


      About Java

      "Java's Journey: A really fun, informative well-written blog that explores all of the things - and I mean all - I love about classic films."-- Flick Chick of A Person In The Dark Email: java-rush@hotmail.com


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