Monday, July 5, 2010

A Look Back and a New Perspective

I do not know how many times it has rained on the Fourth of July in Detroit, but it seems that it has been a fair amount.  I do remember a few really steamy 4ths, including 1977 when I was two days away from delivering my first son and we were in the midst of a heat wave.   Despite my indoor/outdoor weather station saying that we are going to get rain, there was none in sight yesterday, unless you count the humidity in the air.  I stayed inside most of the day.

My oldest is coming home this week for a visit and we will celebrate next weekend with family.  So, yesterday, I holed up in my home with the A/C running and watched an old movie.

I originally saw 'West Side Story' at the United Artists Theatre in downtown Detroit when it opened in 1961.  A girlfriend and I rode the bus downtown (I rode the Detroit buses exclusively for transportation right through 1969) and spent the afternoon listening to what would become very familiar tunes.  I loved the music so much I bought the LP (monaural).  I wore it out on an old portable player and have no idea where it ended up after several moves.

But I never, ever, watched the movie again.  It was long.  Two and one-half hours.  And when I first saw it, it was the music, specifically the singing (I had studied voice right through 1961), that I enjoyed.  The dancing and the symphonic music was not so appealing.  And the story was, to me at the time, JUST a re-hash of Romeo and Juliet.

This past season the DSO performed Leonard Bernstein's 'Symphonic Dances from West Side Story'. I went early and listened to the background discussion of the events that brought the musical to the stage.  I was re-awakened to the pure symphonic charm of the music itself.

A few weeks later I saw a collector's edition DVD with the screenplay included and a documentary on the making of the movie.  I purchased it and left it in the video cabinet.

So, yesterday, in deciding how to spend my 'cloistered' afternoon, I opened the video and popped it in.  Amazing how 49 years can change one's perspective about something as simple as a movie.  Of course, the opening music struck me first.  And those aerial views of New York City were ingenious.  As a teen, I am sure I missed that completely.

But as an adult, not only did that catch my eye, but I was able to appreciate the choreography of the dances, which, being a non-dancer as a teen, just looked like a bunch of jumping around.  It was those long dance sequences that really got to me the first time.  My friend and I were like 'Enough already'.  And the angle of the shots - at street level looking up at the dancers - genius.

And, last but not least, the timeless story.  Even almost 50 years later, the hatred and bigotry displayed, and the consequences, could be taken out of today's headlines.  And that is the saddest part of all.

If you have not watched the movie in some time or have never seen it, give it a try.  (The movie differs from the original stage play which will be back in Detroit in the fall.)

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