Wednesday, April 27, 2011

West Side Chore . . . y

I remember years ago, when AFI (the American Film Institute) put out its 100 greatest movies of all time list, a friend of mine printed out the list, and pasted it up in his living room, marking off the movies he'd seen, and making an effort to see them all.

Some of the titles on there weren't movies he'd ever see for pleasure, but he thought it would make him . . . something. Cultured? Informed? A better movie-watcher? Able to brag about it at film snob parties?

I don't know, but I actually appreciated the sentiment. Many, many times, (in this era of NetFlix, anyway) I've watched movies that I didn't particularly long to see, because people said they were good, that they were classics, or influential, or something people talked about all the time, and I wanted to be able to say I'd seen them (I did the same thing when everybody was reading the damn Da Vinci Code).

One of those movies, number forty-one on the AFI list, has bothered me for a long time. It's Robert Wise's WEST SIDE STORY, and I'd thought about watching it a few times before. The story is no problem, I like classic films, and Robert Wise is cool. But every time, the assholes snapping their figures to the music at the beginning has chased me away, like a bunch of Universal Monsters torch-wielding villagers. That finger-snapping thing bugs me so much, it's like a physical pain. Right in the taint.

I put WEST SIDE STORY on my NetFlix queue in 2006. It was around that time AFI made a list of the 100 Greatest Movie Musicals, and WSS ended up at number two. I figured I had to see it. Years passed, and every time it got into my top ten, I'd kick it down again, down around number fifty.

Recently, the gorram AFI put out a revised list of 100 greatest movies, and WSS was on it again (this time at 51). I saw it was creeping up my queue again, but this time I let it go. How bad could it be?

I told Jeff I had rented it, and he wanted to know why. I tried to explain it to him. It was like when we had our horror movie website, and there were some movies we knew we would hate (like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT or TEXAS CHAINSAW or HUMAN CENTIPEDE or LEPRECHAUN N DA HOOD), but we had to watch them because they were so revered, or infamous, or requested by our handful of readers. Jeff reminded me that shit like that is why there is no longer a horror movie website between us.

The music is just so grating to me, the stuff with the Puerto Rican and . . . what, Aryan gangs feels so sanitized and phony, and the musicalness of it all has made watching the movie an almost impossible ordeal. And I'm a guy who LIKES musicals.

I only made it one song in the first time. Hearing that "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet" song (which was awful), I had to turn it off, and do something else. I got a little work done (shipped a couple packages, answered angry emails re: packages, mowed my mom's lawn), then went to Facebook and posted about my difficulty.

Immediately, several people commented. My buddy Dave back in Los Angeles (who was always cooler than me, not that that's saying anything), said that not only would I love it if I stuck with it, but I'd be crying by the end. So I turned it back on and tried again.

This time I made it to the thirty-seven minute mark. The only part I came even remotely close to liking was the scene with John Astin, but the moment at the dance when they start they're . . . what do you call it . . . tribal dance fighting, I couldn't bear it any longer. I figured I'd leave it till tomorrow, just to see if I might feel differently then.

And I thought I'd blog about it. That way, if I finish the movie (sometime in June), I can be keeping up a play-by-play of how life-changing it all was.

Rish "East Side" Outfield

1 comment:

Monkey Bite said...

I'm not going to judge because I've always had the same problem with the book "Catch 22." Four attempts to date and never made it to the last page (even with a vain effort to just fake it through about 100 pages).

West Side Story is a movie that has to be viewed in the context of its time. There is no question that parts of it may be tough to relate to almost 50 years later, but it was cutting-edge modern theater and cinema in its day. It was among the first musicals to deal with "real" issues of the time (race, racism, gangs, poverty) and to combine modern dance and music in the framework of what can only be compared to opera (may not be the best way to make my case).

You may want to go see a professional theater production and come back to the movie later. In fact, they did a new version on Broadway a couple years ago that is going out on tour. It may address some of the same challenges you mention. I hear it's grittier and more violent :-).