Matthew Craig Burke 10 a.m., Sept. 4
West Side Story Returns to the Big Screen for One Night Only
While heading to Fashion Valley's Box #4 for this morning's screening of J. Edgar, I happened upon a lighted poster case that featured this graven image:
Photo credit: Saul Bass.
Little Scotty was but a pup when Aunt Fay dragged him kicking and screaming to Chicago's 400 Theatre to see West Side Story. At that age, if it wasn't a cartoon or didn't star Hayley Mills, I had no interest.
Move over, Hayley, there's a new crush in town. Even when doubled in The Parent Trap, Hayley Mills was no match for Natalie Wood. At the time it didn't dawn on me that the 400, with it's cramped screen, didn't know an aspect ratio from it's elbow. With the sides shaved off, it was like watching est Side Sto, but I didn't care. There were bright colors and pretty ladies dancing on screen, the butter on the corn fresh (not the Quaker State crap they use today), and even through their tinny, monaural speakers, the music sounded symphonic. The following week, I demanded that my mother bring me back to the 400 for a repeat viewing.
I've probably seen WSS projected at least twenty times, and all but one (a 70mm revival) was a vintage dye-transfer Technicolor print. You haven't lived until you've seen this glass-paneled door in real Technicolor:
A friend used to own a pristine, embossed-looking 35mm Tech roadshow print (with walk-on and intermission music) that we wore the sprockets off of. The film's shortcoming have long been made obvious: Natalie Wood and George Chakiris, the son of Greek immigrants, as Puerto Ricans?! The clothesline compositions of the glaucomatous Dance in the Gym number?! Richard Beymer as a leading man?!
Who's got the Vaseline?
Forgive me, but the biggest unintentional laugh comes when Maria instructs Tony to keep his voice down so as not to wake her parents. Thirty-seconds later, thery're both screaming "TO-NIIIIIIIGHT, TO-NIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT! Close behind is Ms. Wood's cringe-inducing Espanol as she cautions, "How many bullets do I have left, Chino? Enough for Jew? And Jew?"
As far as I'm concerned, this one has lived inside my head so long, it's been rendered beyond criticism. Unfortunately, all of the existing dye-transfer prints are in the hands of private collectors, and there is no way any of them will allow their babies to be plattered. Nor will TCM, the presentation's sponsor, pony up the dough to strike a dozen or so prints to bicycle across the country. We'll have to settle for second best, which in this case is a digitally remastered presentation in honor of the film's 50th Anniversary.
The Ned Glass "WAKE UP!" call
You have exactly one chance to see it projected large and with an audience. West Side Story screens November 9 at 7:00 p.m. at both AMC's Otay Ranch and Plaza Bonita Theatres. You might just hear me singing along in the fourth row.
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