WEST SIDE STORY: How to Retell a Masterpiece and Make Another Masterpiece

What’s Talia Ryder doing in 2022? Because for the second straight winter, I’m going deep on a movie I consider one of the best films of the previous year, if not the best, and she’s the common denominator. (I darn well tried to spot her in The Dance at the Gym but no such luck.)

As I mentioned in my Year in Review, one of my works in progress is my first attempt at a musical. And as someone who’s always tried to learn from the best every time I endeavor at something new, you can’t get much better than West Side Story, which also happened to be my high school’s class production during sophomore year, when we opened a new auditorium. For two months of rehearsals and performances, you could have seen me at my bass in the orchestra pit, struggling with Leonard Bernstein’s fiendishly difficult music and playing soft enough to not overpower Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics.

I fell in love with West Side Story. And when I finally saw the 1961 Robert Wise/Jerome Robbins film, in 70mm as it should be seen, I fell in love with that, too. So when Steven Spielberg decided he was directing a new film version, I was…intrigued, because of both the “Why?” everyone seemed to be asking and that Spielberg, one of the integral parts of my artistic life, was coming off the disaster of Ready Player One.

I now ask myself, “why was I only intrigued?” West Side Story (2021) gave me goosebumps seconds into the film and then kept my hair standing on end, my eyes widening, my tears trickling down more than once. BenDavid Grabinski tweeted that no film had made him feel this way since Mad Max: Fury Road and from the point of view of “here’s all the great things movies can do,” that is an apt comparison!

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