West Side Story by Steven Spielberg

West Side Story will be released on 23 December in Italian cinemas. This is the second film version for the most revolutionary musical of all time, this time directed by Steven Spielberg. The director had had this dream in the drawer for years!

Ariana DeBose as Anita in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo by Niko Tavernise. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

It is 1961 when the film directed by Robert Wise and from the choreographer Jerome Robbins he won 10 Oscars, becoming one of the masterpieces of the history of cinema. It is about West Side Story, the 1957 theatrical musical of the same name with the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim and the immortal music of Leonard Bernstein. And we will spend Christmas 2021 singing and dancing with the film version of Steven Spielberg. This version is also a true masterpiece. Defined “phenomenal, capable of reinventing itself, Spielberg at its best, magnificent cinema”, Everyone agreed! Joining Steven Spielberg in the script is playwright and librettist Tony Kushner, with whom he previously collaborated for both Munich and Lincoln. The West Side Story global conference opened with a tribute and remembrance to Stephen Sondheim who passed away on November 26 this year. “Stephen was the first person I met when I tried to get the rights to West Side Story, they already knew us because my production company had made the Sweeney Todd movie, which he wrote, and we met again at the White House when we received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, me, him and Barbra Streisand”Spielberg said. “I had this desperate desire to do my own version of West Side Story but no words came out of my mouth, so I talked about everything but that. Then I did it and he was very involved in the production, in the script phase he gave ideas to Tony. But the part where he was most active was the pre-recordings with the artists, he sat next to me for three weeks in the recording studio.“.


This version of West Side Story has a very close connection with the previous one: the presence of Rita Moreno (also producer of the film), original interpreter of Anita, now a splendid 90 years old, for which a cameo has not been reserved but a real role has been written. “It wasn’t easy, I can’t say I wasn’t jealous, it would be a damn lie, I would like to be still young like then and be able to do it again, but in the impossibility of doing it I had a beautiful part written by this gentleman and I love being in this movie. I’m not saying it just to say it but I love every scene of mine ”, commented Rita Moreno. “It was difficult, absolutely disturbing to do the scene I had done then with today’s Anita (Ariana DeBose, ed), it was for her but even more so for me. I kept looking at her and I had a lot of trouble staying in the scene, because what I was doing there was saving Anita’s life, preventing her from being raped by these guys, I had to put an end to this. I did the scene and I was really upset. It was very strange“.


The city of 70 years ago still exists in part in certain neighborhoods, you can find the New York of the fifties still existing in Brooklyn, Queens, in the Bronx, and also in Harlem. We only shot where the buildings haven’t changed, we also went to Harrison in New Jersey which was much more architecturally similar to that part between 59th and 72nd streets”Explained the director. “In the opening scene we stretched the extent of a set, we actually physically reconstructed five blocks of the West Side ruins. The only digital intervention was to remove the satellite dishes and the security bars on the windows, because today in New York they are upstairs on the second floor, and we had to remove some of them. Everything else is authentic of the period because it still lives in contemporary New York“. And Tony Kushner added on the choice not to bring the story to the present day: “we didn’t do it for two reasons: regardless of the period the score is not dated at all, the music is incredibly fantastic, alive and it feels like the story is happening right now every time you hear it. It’s not cloying or out of date, but Steven was very specific in wanting it to be set at the time, because the language of the songs is what the kids spoke in 1957, it’s period specific and it would have sounded weird today. Also, one of the first things we talked about at the beginning is that this tragedy takes place on a strip of land between 60th and 72nd streets that is destined for demolition and is disappearing. Behind the rivalry of Jets and Sharks is a bigger enemy. At the end of the Jets song we see this boy singing ‘we are the kings of the world’ perched on a mound of ruins“.

– Margherita Bordino

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