Remeeting a Girl Named Maria
New York magazine|December 20, 2021 - January 02, 2022
If you liked West Side Story before, you’ll love it now.
By Bilge Ebiri

YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW before going into West Side Story that Steven Spielberg has been itching to make a musical for pretty much his entire career. You can feel it in the film’s opening sequence, in the glee with which he follows members of the white gang, the Jets, as they emerge from beneath a pile of rubble and snap and strut their way down a bustling 1950s Upper West Side street. Spielberg punctuates their walk with offhand glimpses of everyday objects moving in rhythm—a closed lighter, a tossed coin, a blown newspaper. It’s musical, sure, but it’s also … Spielbergian, reminiscent of any number of playfully choreographed scenes from his previous pictures. You half-expect Indiana Jones to swing in and start cracking his bullwhip in time to the beat.

West Side Story does feel at times like a movie the director’s entire career has been building toward. He is, after all, our foremost master of blocking, and it’s hard to think of a better arena in which to demonstrate his powers, not just because of the grace and rigor required to stage any film musical but this one in particular, with modern dance built into its DNA. This isn’t a popular opinion, but I’ll share it anyway: In Robert Wise’s widely beloved, Oscar-soaked 1961 film, the camera had to step back to take in the jazzy, whirling grandeur of Jerome Robbins’s choreography—and the results were frustratingly theatrical. Spielberg goes in the opposite direction; he’s unafraid to plunge his camera into the swirling, leaping, kicking bodies (their movements, this time, courtesy of New York City Ballet choreographer Justin Peck). He’s unafraid, in other words, to make West Side Story a movie.

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