Friday, September 23, 2005

West Side Story

I'm killing time, waiting for Battlestar Galactica to start and I run across West Side Story (the movie version) on TV.

I bought the VHS tape of this back in high school. While you might think of this as an odd purchase for a high school kid, it really makes sense in the larger scheme of who I was at the time.

First--the songs. Any honest person who appreciates American music has to admit that West Side Story is filled with some of the greatest American music created by an American composer. You can make jokes, as I certainly have over the years, that the movie is parody and funny. The idea of street tough gang members singing their operatic heads off, the cliched phrases, clothes, the knock-off Shakespearean plot . . . but the music, the lyrics, the complexities of "Tonight" where everyone is singing, preparing for a date or a rumble and everything else . . . all that transcends the hokey nature of the film. Some of Leonard Bernstein's best music ever.

Second--why I first loved the songs. This answer is deeply embedded in my love of band, martial music of that sort, and my (then) intense pleasure with Drum Corps. One of my first memories of Drum Corps International was hearing The Garfield Cadets (now known as the Cadets) perform a twelve-minute marching performance of their interpretation of West Side Story. The music was wonderful and stirring and the combined intricacy and chaotic precision that mark the Cadet's marching style made it an eye-opening experience. Remember that I had grown up wanting to be in band and seeing it presented in such a pure, intense form made a big impression on me.

Third--the actors in the movie. Rita Moreno was, to the younger me, always associated with Maria on The Electric Company. To see her as a sexy Latina in New York was always interesting. Natalie Wood was neither here nor there, but it was the presence of Russ Tamblyn (Riff) and Richard Beymer (Tony) that cemented my love of the film in 1989. For, you see, Tamblyn and Beymer were prominent members of my favorite TV phenomenon of my high school youth--the LOST of its day--Twin Peaks. Beymer played the deeply insane Benjamin Horne. Tamblyn played the clinically nuts Dr. Lawrence Jacoby. These dudes were weird, okay?

So, there are many reasons why, on a Friday night, I stopped to watch a good film based on a great set of music.

And now, you know as well.

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