28 April 2021 434 Views

West Side Story: a Tragically Good Trailer. In every sense!

by James Murphy

Spielberg is BACK. Musical remake has launched its first look online..

What is WEST SIDE STORY? It’s basically Romeo and Juliet with musical numbers and an updated, urban feel. It is, therefore, a ‘tragedy’. Steven Spielberg decided to remake the piece. And it’s looking good, sir!

He had always wanted to do a musical movie and there were hints of his talent in the genre at the start of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, where the lovely Kate Capshaw delivers an oriental rendition of Anything Goes.

37 years later, the director is expanding that experiment. WEST SIDE STORY is a full on musical movie of warring gangs and star crossed love amidst the heat and the street. One might have expected a burst of I LIKE TO BE IN AMERICA, arguably the signature song from the piece and among Leonard Bernstein’s most recognised tunes. A blast of colour, perhaps? God knows, we all need that.

But that’s just not Spielberg’s style and indeed would defeat the object of reimagining the original, 60 year old classic film version.

 

This new trailer is a truly fresh take. Moody, smoky, almost supernatural. An emphasis on the two leads as lovers against the odds. There is a kind of meta-textual quality at work. One feels like stage sets are being brought to the focus: Greatest Showman meets Moulin Rouge with grit? And yet there is nothing downbeat.

Yes, tragedy is on the horizon but it is an atmospheric adventure, brimming with energetic promise and a sense of playful cinema craft. Notice the lighting, the specifically Spielberg-ian shafts of grey and blue light that hit the dust and shade and air like magic.

Therein lies another layer of the truly ‘tragic’: missed opportunity. Those what might have beens? Yes, it is great to have Spielberg back to his visual, kinetic, innovative best. It’s just a shame that he seemed to forget that joy for a while, having focused primarily on over-earnest histories that verged on making him the video documentarian over artist in the last decade. Bridge of Spies, Lincoln et al might well have been worthy and informative. But they were also, dare one say, a tad dull and flat in their presentation? Even Ready Player One felt perfunctory in places.

This latest WEST SIDE STORY trailer shows a renewed imagination; a director reborn, refreshed and ready to enchant the world again just when cinema needs him most. And I look forward to seeing this, immensely. Yes, it is just a first trailer but those initial impressions count and tend to point at a film’s critical fate in my experience. This looks like a critical and commercial hit in waiting and perhaps even the Oscar renaissance the movie community has been seeking?

And yes. ALL roads right now seem to lead back to INDIANA JONES. Looking at the West Side Story trailer’s energetic innovation, distinctive visual style and balance of darkness and light? WHAT A SHAME Steven is not returning to direct Dr Jones’ 5th adventure.  It’s just not the same without this Spielberg magic. Sorry!

JAWS. SCHINDLER’S LIST. ET. INDIANA JONES! MINORITY REPORT. The opening of Saving Private Ryan. Childlike awe and wonder now fused to maturity, depth and pathos. You cannot beat Spielberg at his best. This latest effort looks to be a worthy entry in his catalogue of genius.

WEST SIDE STORY is released in December. I will be first to line up and sing along! 



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