Steven Spielberg revisits West Side Story, a monument of American culture to be rediscovered in cinema tomorrow. What changes have been made in this remake?
It’s a dream that Steven Spielberg has always cherished – that of making a musical – and that he finally fulfills thanks to West Side Story. Rereading the 1957 musical and not the film by Robert Wise (1961), its feature film pays homage to the genre and to the original work.
As long as the original?
The sacred Hollywood director has put the dishes in the big with his film which lasts 2h37, almost the same length as the adaptation of Robert Wise (and its 2h33). It must be said that West Side Story is a flowing work which not only tells the love story between two members of opposing clans, but which captures a snapshot of an era: the poverty of the neighborhoods and its future gentrification, the minorities who are struggling to make ends meet, racism and latent violence … And although the two feature films are almost the same length, Spielberg wanted to make welcome changes.
A cast anchored in its time
For the filmmaker, it wasn’t just about making a remake in order to make a remake. He and his team wanted to correct several aspects of Robert Wise’s film. And the first important point was to bring in a cast made up only of Hispanic actors to play the Sharks, so as not to fall into the whitewashing :
“This condition was not negotiable and that is one of the reasons why it took a year to bring the actors and actresses together. It would have been impossible, and even unthinkable, to make a West Side Story movie without doing our best to bring together a diverse cast and crew. In many ways, the diversity of the people who made this film gave it shape and substance. “
This West Side Story puts the spotlight on emerging talents such as Rachel Zegler (Maria), Ariana DeBose (Anita) or David Alvarez (Bernado). While at the time, these characters were interpreted respectively on the screen by Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno (the only Latina actress who still had to wear darker makeup to appear tanned) and George Chakiris.
To stay in the same idea of homage to South American culture, the writers made a conscious but daring choice since 30 to 40% of the dialogues are in Spanish… without subtitles. But be reassured, you will easily manage to follow the intrigue even having taken German LV1 in college.
The casting team also looked into the question of Anybodys, this tomboy mocked for his femininity and who dreams of joining the Jets. A “character who is a man born in a woman’s body“as presented by libretto author Arthur Laurents and played by Susan Oakes in the ’61 film.
To anchor their musical in our time, the casting director called on a non-binary actor played by Iris Menas: “We discussed this a lot and decided that this role would be best played by a trans person. Iris Menas was in a casting for the dance and when we introduced him to Steven he / she said, “We already met when you came backstage on“ Jagged Little Pill. ”Iris was a part of the cast. In a way, we saw at that point that he / she was meant to be in the movie. ”
A difference in tone
The West Side Story of 2021 adapts to the world we live in. Rather than hinting at gang violence like in the 1961 version, Spielberg shows it to us on screen in elegant staging – from the opening until that final one-on-one that fans only know about. Very good. Even the scene where Anita is taken to task at Doc takes a turn more dramatic, more current. The director also takes the time to dig deeper into the character of Tony (Ansel Elgort), explaining why the young boy wants to leave the Jets. A welcome addition that helps strengthen his relationship with young Maria.