A wealthy and well-known artist spends 100 million {dollars} to revive a corpse with the blood of younger folks. The creature continues to be alive, however barely, and the infusion leaves it deader than when it began. This will not be the plot of the newest horror movie from A24 however the unlucky story of Steven Spielberg’s efforts to remake “West Side Story,” the film musical about love and ethnic rivalry amongst New York City gangs. With the screenwriter Tony Kushner, Spielberg has tried to repair the doubtful elements of the 1961 movie, together with its cavalier depiction of Puerto Rican characters and its stereotypes of a hardscrabble New York. But, as an alternative of reconceiving the story, they’ve shored it up with flimsy new struts of sociology and psychology, together with slight dramatic rearrangements. They’ve made ill-conceived additions and misguided revisions. In the course of, they’ve managed to subtract doubly from the unique.

Like the first movie, Spielberg’s is ready round 1960 in San Juan Hill and Lincoln Square, at the time when a lot of the space was being demolished. A swooping opening shot in the remake exhibits a rubble-strewn panorama dominated by a billboard asserting “slum clearance”—to make approach for a gleaming new complicated referred to as Lincoln Center. The ethnic tensions between the neighborhood’s white and Puerto Rican residents are rooted in a battle over their shrinking terrain. Whereas as soon as the space was ample for each side, there’s now solely room for one. (There’s no trace of the indisputable fact that San Juan Hill was, in reality, a predominantly Black neighborhood. The movie options one Black character with a talking function, a gun vendor, performed by Curtiss Cook.) The filmmakers’ try and pin down a trigger for the Jets-Sharks rivalry displays their extra normal shift, in the new movie, towards facile psychologizing. In the unique, directed by Robert Wise, the Jets are extra than simply defenders of white pursuits; they’re full-service bullies who harass white children, too. For all of its faults, the unique movie doesn’t rationalize aggression—or racism—away or scale back its characters to single motives.

The unique Tony, as an example, desires to keep away from a combat as a result of he has a job and needs a greater future than the one which appears to await his layabout pals in the Jets. There’s no single awakening that led him to need out of gang life. His choices appear to observe the complicated but inchoate impulses of his character. By distinction, the Tony of Spielberg’s movie is a convict who has spent a yr in Sing Sing due to a combat during which he almost killed one other younger man. He avoids the Jets as a result of he doesn’t need to jeopardize his parole. When Riff tries to steer him to participate in the “rumble” with the Sharks anyway, Tony explains that he’d spent his time in jail inspecting himself ruefully and resolving to dwell in another way. Whatever Spielberg and Kushner could have had in thoughts, what they ship with this simplistic backstory is an endorsement of incarceration: the film makes clear that Tony got here out of jail a greater individual than he went in.

Maria has a fuller life in New York than she did in the 1961 movie. In the unique, she has lately arrived from Puerto Rico for an organized marriage to Chino. In the new movie, she has been in the metropolis for years, caring for her father (it’s hinted that he died), and she or he expresses, in a single line, a need to go to school. Bernardo is now a boxer simply starting his profession. Chino, an undefined presence in the unique, is now in night time faculty, finding out accounting and adding-machine restore. But nothing comes of those new sensible emphases; the characters haven’t any richer inside lives, cultural substance, or vary of expertise than they do in the first movie. Maria nonetheless has little definition past her relationship with Tony; she stays as a lot of a cipher as she was in the 1961 movie.

Indeed, Spielberg’s movie radically, woefully transforms the one scene in the unique that conveys a way of Maria and Tony’s household histories, and it does so with a sanctimoniousness which may have embarrassed studio filmmakers even then. In the unique movie, Maria works with Anita at an area bridal store owned by a Puerto Rican girl, and Tony comes to go to her there, after hours. In a playfully comedic sequence, they use mannequins to playact assembly one another’s households, till their banter provides swish rise to a mock bridal ceremony. In Spielberg’s movie, Maria works at the division retailer Gimbels as a cleaner on the night time crew, and the swish irony of the humble bridal-shop wedding ceremony has been traded for a solemn fake union in the expressly spiritual setting of the Cloisters, at an altar in entrance of a stained-glass window. In one other nod to the useful results of his incarceration, Tony explains to Maria that he noticed the Cloisters for the first time from the window of the bus that was taking him to jail.

Rita Moreno, the unique film’s Anita, has famously returned for Spielberg’s, taking part in the widow of Doc, the proprietor of the sweet retailer and pharmacy that serves as the Jets’ hangout. More Moreno is a profitable system for any film, however even right here Spielberg depends on her presence to justify his superficial and reductive decisions. Valentina and the late Doc are portrayed as the primordial combined marriage of the neighborhood, and Tony lives in the basement of the retailer—after his launch from jail, Valentina gave him each a job and a spot to dwell. Now that Tony has met Maria, he tells Valentina that he desires to “be like Doc,” his function mannequin of masculine advantage. In planning a life with Maria, he isn’t merely following the romantic dictates of his coronary heart but additionally enacting a social archetype.

Both the casting and the route of the actors in Spielberg’s movie are surprisingly paradoxical. Natalie Wood, after all, had no enterprise taking part in Maria in the unique movie, and her irrepressible presence couldn’t salvage the dismally slender function. In Spielberg’s movie, Maria is performed by Rachel Zegler, a younger actress whose mom is Colombian. Unlike Wood, whose singing voice was dubbed by that of Marni Nixon, Zegler performs her personal songs, with a voice each highly effective and delicate. Yet Spielberg directs her to behave like a Disney princess, with oversimplified facial and vocal expressions reflecting a single unambiguous emotion at a time. Ansel Elgort, as Tony, has a boyish bewilderment in his eyes, and, if Spielberg had been curious about Tony’s life somewhat than his guidelines of motives, that high quality may have been used to nice impact. But Elgort can also be seven years older than Zegler, and his bearing towards her is almost avuncular. There’s no chemistry, no sense of a gathering of equals.

There wasn’t a lot of a spark between Wood and Richard Beymer (the unique Tony), and Wise wasn’t precisely the most audaciously unique of Hollywood filmmakers. But he nonetheless discovered some impressed work-arounds to conjure ardour onscreen. For starters, the dance at the fitness center the place Tony and Maria meet is much sexier than something in Spielberg’s movie. In Wise’s model, the very partitions of the fitness center are sizzling with ardour, painted a livid purple, and the dancing itself, in contrast to that in Spielberg’s movie, is blatantly erotic. When Tony and Maria see one another at the dance in the unique, the complete fitness center goes out of focus, leaving them with a surrealistic sort of tunnel imaginative and prescient for one another. Then the fitness center darkens right into a mystical night time area and the music shifts, and the complete setting goes swooningly romantic with the drive of their love. In the new movie, their assembly is only a face-to-face behind the bleachers.

The change is emblematic of Spielberg’s failure, as a result of it isn’t solely visible creativeness and fantasy that he can’t match. The finest issues in his model of “West Side Story”—the songs, their acerbity, the view of racial discrimination and sophistication privilege—are already in the outdated one, whereas the finest issues in the outdated “West Side Story” are lacking. There isn’t any police lieutenant’s open insulting of white children, or overtly racist and threatening rant in opposition to Puerto Ricans, who reply by whistling, sardonically, “My Country ’Tis of Thee.” The ending of the unique, with its restraint and ease, has been weighed down with further particulars and grandiosity. The remake counteracts even the fundamental empathies of the unique. It features a significantly vigorous model of the quantity “Gee, Officer Krupke,” during which the Jets mock the informal diagnoses and homilies utilized to them and different so-called juvenile delinquents. But the 1961 film affords no straightforward solutions to their troubled lives; it agrees with the track, if solely by omission. Spielberg, in contrast, delivers the very sorts of diagnoses that the track is supposed to mock—he himself Krupkifies the movie. He leaves no unfastened ends, no ambiguities, no extravagances, no extremes. Instead, he enumerates subjects and options dutifully and earnestly, making a airtight coherence seemingly rooted not in the optimistic shaping of drama however in the quest for believable deniability in the court docket of crucial opinion.

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