West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray

| November 15, 2011

Musical Theatre is a tricky art form. Most of it is really, truly awful, and it’s marginalized even further by its relative seclusion in New York City for most of its history. Certainly, other countries have and continue to tell stories with music, but unlike almost every other form of art or music, musical theatre was actually created here in the United States. It is a uniquely American creation, and should be celebrated when it is an achievement (which unfortunately, most musicals aren’t).
West Side Story is, and has always been, one of the exceptions to the rule. As a musical, its score and story have remained relevant and beloved since its inception. Every year, how many thousands of productions are mounted? How many millions of people go to experience it, over and over again?
I wondered this myself as I sat in a packed-to-the-gills movie theatre of people of all ages recently, watching this movie that is celebrating its fiftieth year of existence. How many children were seeing it for the first time, and how many had seen it before? How many adults? How many older generations have passed down this story from child to grandchild? For in this day and age, when any form of entertainment seems to have only the briefest of shelf lives, West Side Story has endured.
Unquestionably, the movie version lives on because of tremendous quality. The attention to detail, the perfect performances (both on-screen and those sung off-screen), the excellent script and score. Of course, these things did not come together by accident. In an era when filmmaking was still being defined, artists came together to create movies, and this was one of the many results.
Let’s not let naivete take hold-this movie was made to make money the way every movie has and always will be made. Politics and Corporate Dealings played just as much of a hand in the making of this movie as any other-the original Broadway director, Jerome Robbins, was asked to co-direct the movie with seasoned movie director Robert Wise (he happened to direct another little movie musical you may have heard of, The Sound Of Music).
Part way through production, Robbins was fired. Little explanation is offered as to why in the new interviews and introduction Turner Classic Movies packaged and put together for this new release. It can be assumed it had to do with money. The movie was taking too long to get made, too much money was being spent on it, and the risk of an unsuccessful release, and therefore no return on the investment, must have won out. Art and Commerce battled then just as they do today. Commerce will always win. But sometimes, as in this case, Art gets an honorable mention after the fight is over.
The age old story of Romeo and Juliet, credited to Shakespeare, is re-told in this musical, set in the eponymous neighborhood in New York City. Everyone probably knows the story, everyone probably knows many, if not all, of the songs, and could probably credit Leonard Bernstein and Steven Sondheim with their creation. Nothing that’s written about the movie can do it justice; its beauty and splendor go deeper than words. Sometimes music can just access the raw emotions in a way that normal speech cannot.
Before I sound too James Lipton-esque, I freely admit there are flaws in the movie, not only technical flaws but imperfect moments. As a contemporary movie-goer, it is difficult to suspend disbelief when characters break into song-especially as often as they do in this particular musical. But the impact of a story about a love unable to triumph in the midst of the racist neighborhood it exists within can still break hearts-maybe only because of the bone-chilling knowledge that racism just like that still exists in the world today.
This movie can still take your breath away; it can still transcend time and space and give an audience chills and make them cry and laugh. It would be unfair to say “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore”, because that’s certainly not true…They didn’t even make them like that back then.
But, just as in life, a shooting star will streak across the sky every once in a while…well, a great movie will come and touch your heart.
For the 50th Anniversary Edition’s HD transfer, the film underwent hundreds of hours of restoration and the resulting 1080p image and the English 7.1 DTS-HD audio mix are every bit as breath-taking as the film itself. The West Side Story 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray’s special features include:
-”Pow! The Dances of West Side Story“- an all-new featurette in which cast members, contemporary filmmakers, dancers and choreographers analyze and illuminate the film’s famous dance sequences.
-”A Place for Us: West Side Story’s Legacy”- another all-new look back at the iconic film and the impact it has had all over the world
-Song-Specific Commentary by Lyricist Stephen Sondheim
-the Music Machine, which allows viewers to go straight to their favorite musical numbers
-”West Side Memories”
-a storyboard to film comparison montage
- and a wide array of West Side Story trailers
The Blu-ray is also available in a Limited Edition Collector’s Set featuring the two-disc Blu-ray, a newly restored DVD, and tribute CD along with a photo book and other collectibles.

About the Author:

Heather Trow is a nursing assistant and part-time writer. When she is not writing, she is listening to the popular podcast "NEVER NOT FUNNY". Actually, at any given time, most likely, she is listening to the podcast. It's pretty much all she does besides work. It is her favorite thing.
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