Comment Of The Day: “The Hypocrisy Of Politically Correct Casting Mandates: Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ Virtue-Signaling Debunked”

This was a nice surprise! Just as I began discussions about doing a special presentation for the Smithsonian Associates on West Side Story to coincide with the movie’s release (or maybe the Broadway revival’s opening this summer, mplo issued this timely Comment of the Day on a year old post, “The Hypocrisy Of Politically Correct Casting Mandates: Spielberg’s “West Side Story” Virtue-Signaling Debunked.”

Here it is;  I’ll have one comment at the end:

In my opinion, it would’ve been better if Spielberg had just left the original 1961 film version of West Side Story alone and created his own film with a similar theme, an homage  to WSS, instead of trying to update and remake it.

I have seen pictures of the cast, examples of Justin Peck’s choreography of the dancing, and the scenery settings, and how colorful they all are. I don’t like what I’ve seen, at all.The backdrop scenes look far more like wealthier, tonier parts of the city, as opposed to the impoverished, rough-and-rundown parts of the city that served as a backdrop in the original. The colors are too jarring.

The Jets, the Sharks and their girls in Spielberg’s reboot/remake of the film “West Side Story” look far more like wealthy suburban prep-school kids who are dressed to the nines for partying all over town than two street gangs who are at war with each other. The Jets, the Sharks and their girls in the original 1961 film version of “West Side Story” look way rougher and tougher than the ones in Spielberg’s  movie.

Justin Peck’s choreography looks too hyper, and more like hip-hop or rap dancing. I’ve seen pictures of that. Simon Oakland’s Lt. Schrank, William Bramley’s Officer Krupke, and the late Ned Glass’s Candy Store owner, Doc, also look  rougher  than Spielberg’s Lt. Schrank, Officer Krupke and “Doc,’ who has been given a sex change in the new script. [JAM: This was a gimmick to get Rita Moreno, the original film Anita, into the movie]

The idea of having Doc replaced by Valentina is ridiculous. Rita Moreno looks quite awful in the photos. [JAM To be fair, she is 88 years old, even older than Joe Biden] When she played Anita in the original 1961 film version of “West Side Story”, that really suited her and the role. She played the role with sheer determination and grit (she practiced and practiced for the part before her audition ), and had the personality, exuberance, energy, charm, looks and dancing skills to carry it off.

Remakes of  classic films generally come out rather dreadful anyway.I don’t see Spielberg’s attempt  being an exception.

One of the things that made the original 1961 film version of “West Side Story” so great is the fact that it was preserved as a larger than life-size piece of theater transferred from stage to screen. Another highlight of the original 1961 film version is that there were no good guys or bad guys in the movie. Both sides  bore responsibility for the feuding, hatred and violence,as well as the fact that lives were lost on both sides.

I know that much of the excitement over the upcoming remake is because  Steven Spielberg is directing it. Sure, he’s a good director, and he’s done some great films, and he busted his hump for 15 years in order to obtain the rights to the film, but that doesn’t make this a wise project to undertake.

Having said all of the above(I mentioned  this in another comment, but it bears repeating), I plan on voting my pocketbook and boycotting Spielberg’s remake. I won’t be going to see it  when it hits the movie theaters around Christmastime this year.

I’m back.

I was disappointed in Spielberg for taking on this project. In 2012. when he was asked to direct the misbegotten remake of “The Ten Commandments” he initially agreed, then pulled out, saying, in essence, that it was foolish to try to improve on a film that was done perfectly the first time. He agreed that technology would allow better special effects, but said that nothing he could do to part the Red Sea would have a fraction of the impact on audiences that Cecil B. DeMille’s depiction had on audiences of the day. Spielberg also said that it was folly to try to out-DeMille DeMille on his own territory, and perhaps disrespectful to try. The director learned from masters like Hawks, Hitchcock, Ford, Capra and DeMille, and he felt it was hubris to presume to improve on them.

Why would Spielberg treat “West Side Story” any differently? The 1961 film won a record (for a musical) ten Academy Awards. I wonder if he has insufficient understanding of the genre. If so, he’s riding for hard, hard fall. I find myself thinking about Richard Attenborough’s unwatchable film version of “A Chorus Line,” or the dreadful movie of  Lerner and Lowe’s “Paint Your Wagon” that was adapted  by brilliant playwright and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky (“Network”) who had apparently never seen a musical, much less adapted one.

Spielberg thinks he can do anything, but he’s failed before when he got outside his admittedly broad  range. His big budget WWII screwball comedy “1941” is spectacular in many ways; Stanley Kubrick told Spielberg that the film was great, but not funny, as if a un unfunny comedy could be great.

I won’t boycott Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” because I’ve followed his career and seen all of his movies. He’s also remade a classic successfully, with “War of the Worlds.” That was a genre he knew well, though: science fiction. Like mplo, I wish Spielberg had left “West Side Story” alone.

8 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “The Hypocrisy Of Politically Correct Casting Mandates: Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ Virtue-Signaling Debunked”

  1. I think Spielberg should stick to war movies like “Saving Private Ryan” or “Schindlers List”. Even “Empire of the Sun” had it’s moments. But remaking a classical musical like “West Side Story@? Please!

    • You’ve made an excellent point, Wayne. Thank you.

      There’s no question but that Steve Spielberg is far better at making films that are based on historical events. “Saving Private Ryan”, “Schindler’s List”, “Munich”, and “The Post” are excellent examples, although “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, and E. T. Terrestrial, as well as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” were good, too.

      It’s agreed; Rebooting/remaking a great, golden oldie-but-keeper of a classic movie-musical such as the original 1961 film version of West Side Story is way too special, too iconic, too beautiful, and way too much in a class by itself to justify a reboot/remake of it by anybody, including Steven Spielberg.

      • “Jurassic Park” has held up better than any of those SS films other than “Jaws” and “Raiders.” I was biased against “Private Ryan” by my WWII combat vet and officer father, who thought it was ridiculous and incompetent—he even wrote a letter to the military advisor. As a great admirer of Gen. Marshall, Dad also thought the conceit of the whole film was an insult—with everything riding on D-Day, there’s no way he would sacrifice a platoon for a purely sentimental mission. “Bridge of Spies” was superb, and accurate. “Minority Report” is almost flawless.

  2. The worst version of WSS was one I saw at the Westbury Theater on Long Island. The cast was topped by Richard Chamberlain (Dr. Kildare) as Tony. The “When you’re a jet” scene replaced coordinated finger snapping of the stage and screen with the gang waving and snapping handkerchiefs. Tony’s death included three encores of him and Maria singing refrains of “Tonight.”

  3. “He’s also remade a classic successfully, with “War of the Worlds.” That was a genre he knew well, though: science fiction.”

    He gave us a protagonist that was ignorant and stunningly stupid (compared to the journalist of the book and the scientist of the original film) and those darn kids…the brainless bash-happy son and the constantly hysterical daughter made me root for the Martians. Except for the War Machines striding across the landscape (his idea of them emerging from amongst us [Spielberg’s reaction to 9/11] was incredibly illogical), the film was a dismal failure.

    • I’d call that a distinctly minority view. I recently watched the George Pal original with Gene Barry, who is indeed a scientist, and the plot is pretty much completely different. Cruise played the now established Cruise character, the selfish jerk who learns to care about others through crisis. Most people are stunningly stupid during real crises, and science fiction movies (See: “Independence Day.”)—that’s why “Mars Attacks” was so funny.

      I see that the film has grossed $704,745,540 including DVD sales. That’s some dismal failure.

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