Like all musical films, the West Side Story relates to a production where the characters sing songs and sometimes dance too, all with the view of developing the characters and advancing the plot of the film
However, the movie brings to the fore various special features, which notably set it out as a historical document. The era in which the film was produced is also of massive importance considering the numerous special events that occurred during the period and how they influenced the production of the move. West Side Story is also typified by a number of features, just like all the other movies are. As such, the aspects of the plot, the production of the movie, the criticism and reception by the public are considered to have substantial significance to all the concerned parties. Shot in the United States, the movie relates a lot to the interest of America just as portrayed by the producers, one of w whose bibliography is covered in the discussion.
The Film's Value as a Historical Document
Though produced in the 1960's, the film constitutes a collection of works, whose value to history goes without saying. West Side story is one film which received enormous praise owing to its role in steering the musical films into the modern era. The relation to which the movie has with shake spears tragedy story of Romeo and Juliet, undoubtedly serves to stir up the atmosphere of classical tragedy, though integrated with a modern touch. By doing this, the musical helped raise the standards by which musical films are judged to a whole new level
. The production o f the movie basically added taste and style to the old forms of tragic movies say through the corroboration of various fundamentals of ballet, opera and drama. Though neither intended to rescue the musical genre of movies from decline nor reinvent it, the film eventually helped bring film musicals to life.
The essence of the West Side Story as a historical document is also brought about in the way historical issues that the movie portrays. The existence of historical conflicts within the United States and other regions, more so in the past cannot be undermined. Just like disagreements occurred within people of different backgrounds, living in the same neighbourhood, the Manhattan streets, as shown in the movie were not spared. The strife for control in the specific streets was evident with evident ethnic groupings fighting one another in the neighbourhood.
The Era in Which the Film Was Produced
The period around the 1950's and 1960's related to the era in which the West Side story was produced. This era could be referred to as the era of the classic as demonstrated in the way most works produced during the era is described. According to Megan Woller, classifying this movie into a specific era is quite challenging considering the existence of a variety of version for the film. This was necessitated by the series of alterations that were significant as the movie shifted phase from Broadway to Hollywood
The various elements of fashion, race and gender are considerably presented within the movie in its successive formats. As a matter of fact, the musical movie relates to an extensively ritualized and augmented performance of both gender and racial roles; just like they exist in the society. The movie, in representing the happenings around the 1950's and 60's brings to the fore a society in which hostilities, whether direct or indirect, existed across races and cultures
. This is made so obvious by the difference in the cultural backgrounds between the two rival gangs. While the Jets are predominantly white, the sharks are immigrants with Puerto Rican backgrounds
. In addition, the extent of female oppression is evident in the film. Patriarchy is seemingly glorified and men considered and decision makers. Women in the film are seen as to make attempts at resisting the gender oppression that exists in the male dominated society
The movie is set in the city is New York, Manhattan to be specific. It is in the late 1950's and the conflict, not between families but rather street gangs is portrayed. At the introduction of the movie, it is in the late summer and tension is rising between two rival white American gangs
. One of the gangs is known by the street name of the Jets with its leader being Riff Lorton, the role played by Russ Tamblyne. The rival group is the sharks, composed of Puerto Rican Immigrants and headed by George Chakiris who plays the role of bernado Nunez, the gang's leader
The gangs bother each other with the sharks being the instigators. With this flow of events, a brawl erupts between the members who end up fighting randomly. Baby John, the youngest member of the jets is captured by the rival group who begin to beat him up. The reaction from the sharks towards t he jets build up into another scuffle between the two groups of gangs
. This fight is eventually broken up by two police officers, Officer Krukpe and Lieutenant shrank who arrive at the scene after a short while
. With he officers gone, the jets thinks of a strategy on how to decide the group to remain in charge of the street. With this, they decide to challenge the shark, at some neutral ground like a dance. Tony, the groups co-founder is decided upon as the Jet's representative on the challenge. Though reluctant at first, he takes upon the challenge. At the dance, Bernardo's sister and tony fall for each other and this disgusts Bernard. Riff puts forward a "war council" with Bernardo. The arrival of Lieutenant Shrank however neutralizes the feud at the war council with the two groups pretending to be friends.
Tony and Maria continue to see each other with Maria, who is now aware of the impeding confrontation convincing tony to stop the brawl. His attempt is however unsuccessful as the events following his protests lead to the death of riff and Bernardo; both of whom are stabbed. In revenge of Bernardo's death, Chino shoots tony to death. At Tony's funeral, a show of unity is demonstrated between the two groups who seem to be mourning together
Circumstances surrounding the Production of the Film
The production of the movie went hand in hand with the events and the happenings within the west side Manhattan also known as hell's kitchen. The movie basically is an adaptation of the book known by the same name and written by Arthur Laurent. It captures the real situation of the neighbourhood, which could plainly be described as violent and tumble. As a matter of fact, the neighbourhood was marred by conflicts emanating from the various ethic gangs that existed within the area. Only until the 19990's did the neighbourhood experience a break from the instability which served majorly to depress the inhabitants besides frustrating real estate prices. The reputation of the region was undoubtedly gritty during the era in which this movie was produced.
In the years around the 1950's, this specific neighbourhood in Manhattan experienced an influx of immigrants majorly from Puerto Rico with others being Italians and Irish. Gangs were formed during the periods after the 1950 with ethnic identity being their basis. As such, conflicts between the gangs escalated, causing losses of lives in some instances. In 1959 for example, an aborted rumble between the Puerto Rican and Irish gangs led to the death of two teenagers. This has seen been known as the infamous "Capeman" murders. The conflicts and the deaths that are depicted within the movie, West Side Story, coupled with their ethnic attachment is a real representation of the circumstances of the neighbourhood during the period
Criticism and Reception
The reception to the movie was very positive considering the special elements it brought to the world of musical films together with the real life situation it depicted among other things
. As a result, West side Story scooped numerous awards which included the likes of academy award for best art director, academy award for best picture, academy the movie award for best sound and the list is endless. Further, the united sates library of congress has applauded the film for its cultural significance and has subsequently preserved its place in the National film registry. The west side story has also maintains the top most place among the musical films with numerous academy award wins.
In spite of the high flying performance that the film and its version have enjoyed over the years, criticism has also been observed as regarding its production. To Leonard Bernstein, one prominent American music lecturer, author, composer and director, the use of the soundtrack associated with the film's Broadway production was not pleasant in any way. The number of artist used for the orchestration was extremely excessive since only a number close to thirty had been orchestrated for.