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Book Review: "Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures" By Joe Jordan

BY DEAN BRIERLY

For a film director with such an iconic resume, there’s a surprising scarcity of scholarly books devoted to Robert Wise, the man who directed such classics as "West Side Story" (1961), "The Haunting" (1963), “The Sound of Music” (1965), “The Curse of the Cat People” (1944), “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), “The Sand Pebbles” (1966) and many other critical and commercial successes. To say nothing of his stature as the man who edited “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942) before taking up decades-long residence in the director’s chair.

Wise brought a self-effacing approach to directing, one that never drew attention to itself. He may have had the most “invisible” style of all the major directors from Hollywood’s Golden Era, which no doubt helps explain why he never had the auteur imprimatur conferred upon him by French critics who swooned over Welles’ baroque visuals, Douglas Sirk’s melodramatic excess, and Howard Hawks’ male-bonding thematic.
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The secret life of the American musical : how Broadway shows are built by Jack Viertel.

p. 164- 166

For many shows, the question of where to drop the curtain must have been difficult to answer. Is the anticipation harder to bear than the act itself? "What will happen?" better than "Look what just happened!"?

West Side Story used a variation of a classical technique to answer the question, the finaletto. Finaletto is a fancy opera term that refers to a piece of music that ends a scene. Often, it suggests a small cluster of reprises or intertwining songs. It doesn't end the whole show (that's the finale ultimo ). A proper finaletto may take many forms, but it often manages to convey a group of differing points of view from different characters, letting us know that there are clearly defined conflicts and differences of opinion at this point in the story. But it also, by reprising familiar melodic strains in a small bouquet, reminds us of how these people feel and what they've been through emotionally. Finaletti were de rigueur in the operettas and musicals of the '20s and '30s but were still often in use in the '60s, though you find them less often today. And the shows that used them don't have to be high minded just because the word is Italian; the first act of How to Succeed concludes with a finaletto -it's even labeled that way in the playbill. But the Tonight Quintet from West Side Story is probably the finest of them-except it doesn't end the act, and it's only partly a reprise.
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Finishing the hat : collected lyrics (1954-1981) with attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines and anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim

p. 26 The second regret was that many of the lyrics in "West Side Story" suffer from a self-conscious effort to be what Lenny deemed "poetic". I had originally been hired to be a co-lyricist with him, and I knew from the start that I was getting into a collaboration with someone whose idea of poetic lyric writing was the antithesis of mine-but Oscar had given me such confidence that I naively thought I could prevail. The collaboration was a delight in every way except for the lyrical result. Lenny was supportive but insistent, and I was just insecure enough to accede and present him with lines like "Today the world was just an address" and "I have a love," these sung by street kids on the pavements of New York City. He especially liked "Tonight there will be no morning star": granted, Tony is supposed to be a dreamy character, but it's unlikely he's even seen a morning star (you don't see stars in Manhattan except at the Planetarium), much less that he would be inclined to use it as an image. Lenny kept encouraging me to come up with these maunderings, but by the time we got around to "Something's Coming" late in rehearsals, I had rebuilt enough confidence over two years of collaboration to insist on the kind of imagery I though Tony should be using-baseball, for example, rather than the night over Manhattan.



petzipellepingo: (wss sharks quintet by poptartmuse)
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West Side Story as cinema : the making and impact of an American masterpiece by Ernesto R. Acevedo-Munoz. Fascinating and very detailed look at how the film was put together, especially the use of color and symbolism throughout. Lots of great tidbits like not only was the Somewhere Ballet dropped from the film but there was serious discussion about dropping The Quintet which, IMO, would have been a tragedy. In a tidbit for [personal profile] insaneladybug, from page 110 :

In fact, Shrank was supposed to "song-talk" a few lines during the montage-something about "clean out the gangs" and "stop the action... tonight" but evidently, this idea was not pursued.

A great read, I literally read it from cover to cover last night without stopping. And once you've read it, you'll want to re-watch the film just to notice all the little details you might have missed in the past.

The only odd thing was no mention at all of Peter Gennaro, who choreographed the majority of the Sharks dance moves and was frozen out of the credits by Jerome Robbins.
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Maestro

By JOHN ROCKWELL

THE LEONARD BERNSTEIN LETTERS
Edited by Nigel Simeone
Illustrated. 606 pp. Yale University Press. $38.

Whenever a generous collection of correspondence like “The Leonard Bernstein Letters” appears, one rejoices, but sadly. People still write one another, though usually through electronic and social media that discourage leisurely soul-searching or digressions. Lenny was lucky he didn’t live later, or we’d have “The Leonard Bern­stein Tweets.”

“Letters are impossible,” Bernstein once complained to Aaron Copland, but that hardly stopped him from writing them. Most of the letters here offer glimpses of his personality rather than insights into his compositions or conducting. There is some of that, as in ex­changes with David Diamond, Marc Blitzstein, John Cage and Gunther Schuller. Yet despite discussions with collaborators like Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim, this is hardly a latter-day version of the Strauss-Hofmannsthal correspondence, which remains the ultimate depiction of a long-distance working relationship. Bern­stein’s subjects offer more about love and affection and concert triumphs than deep insights. They open up a window into his dazzling personality and his close relations with an expansive range of friends, and a smaller circle of truly close friends, often dating back to his youth (Cop­land, Adolph Green, the producer David Oppenheim, the orchestrator Sid Ramin and more), and, above all, family.
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Hiding Within His Own Words

By ZACHARY WOOLFE

THE LEONARD BERNSTEIN LETTERS
Edited by Nigel Simeone
Illustrated. 606 pages. Yale University Press. $38.

“You see, I still don’t really know quite what I want to do,” Leonard Bernstein wrote to a friend in 1939, when he was 20. “Conduct, compose, piano, produce, arrange, etc. I’m all of these and none of them.”

Over the next 50 years, the question was less what he would do than how he would do it all. One of the great cultural personalities of the 20th century, Bernstein (1918-90) had capacious talents and an uncommonly full life.
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Letters Show Leonard Bernstein Almost Walked Away From WEST SIDE STORY

by BWW News Desk

The Guardian writes that a new collection of letters by famed composer Leonard Bernstein -- Nigel Simeone's Leonard Bernstein Letters, set to debut next month -- reveal the composer's 'hostility' for WEST SIDE STORY book writer Arthur Laurents. Bernstein even considered walking away from the project, according to one of the letters.
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petzipellepingo: (wss anita by dallowayward)
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I finished reading Rita Moreno : a Memoir , which has one chapter on West Side Story . Nothing especially new revealed: Read more... )
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Rita Moreno: A Memoir

by Rita Moreno

In this luminous memoir, Rita Moreno shares her remarkable journey from a young girl with simple beginnings in Puerto Rico to Hollywood legend--and one of the few performers, and the only Hispanic, to win an Oscar, Grammy, Tony and two Emmys.
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Hollywood Legend Rita Moreno Dishes On New Memoir

NEW YORK (WLNY) – From Broadway to the big screen, Rita Moreno has done it all — and she has the awards to prove it.

Now on the hit TV show, Happy Divorced, the 81-year-old Hollywood legend has penned a memoir.

Rita Moreno Talks New Memoir On The Couch
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Rita Moreno in Conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda


Barnes & Noble at 86th and Lexington Avenue will host "Rita Moreno in Conversation With Lin-Manuel Miranda" on March 5, 2013. Moreno's book, "Rita Moreno: A Memoir", will be released the same day.

On the bookstore's website, the event is billed as: "The incomparable singer, dancer, and actress - and Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Oscar winner -- Rita Moreno is joined by composer Lin-Manuel Miranda for the release of Ms. Moreno's highly-anticipated memoir.

 photo 192013ritabook_zps172ab65c.jpg

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petzipellepingo: (wss jet song by tafs_icons)
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Yesterday at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS four of the actor/dancers from the 1961 film were their promoting their book, “Our Story.”
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“Everyone told us that it was an impossible project … And we were told no one was going to be able to sing augmented fourths, as with ‘Ma-ri-a’ … Also, they said the score was too rangy for pop music … Besides, who wanted to see a show in which the first-act curtain comes down on two dead bodies lying on the stage?”


Leonard Bernstein regarding the writing of West Side Story in an interview with Rolling Stone.

And now to Sondheim )
petzipellepingo: (wss 1957 tony maria by teragramm)
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From Broadway Musicals, Revised and Updated: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time by Frank Vlastnik.

The one element that West Side Story has that saves the evening from unmitigated tragedy-an element that Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet does not have-is its sense of forgiveness. Tony, maturing and trying to escape the cycle of violence, dies while trying to stop his peers from their self-imposed code of honor. When, in their immaturity, the Jets and the Sharks allow their emotions to escalate the violence, it is their own who are hurt, and only then do the gangs begin to understand what all their posturing, taunting and insecurities have wrought. The show may make fun of Officer Krupke and all the bleeding hearts that try to excuse the actions of delinquents on sociological grounds, but the show itself, while in no way condoning the actions or shying away from their consequences, still has a moment of togetherness and hope at the end.
It's that hope that makes the intensity of the evening bearable, and makes West Side Story eternal.
petzipellepingo: (wss 50 year anniversary by teragramm)
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'West Side Story' Dancers Celebrate Film's 50th Anniversary

By Jessica Gardner

The film version of "West Side Story" marked its 50th anniversary in 2011. The beloved screen transfer of the legendary Broadway musical won 10 Oscars in 1961, including best picture and best director for Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. AFI ranks it number 41 on its list of 100 greatest American movies, and it ranks number two on AFI's greatest movie musicals list. In 1997, the film was chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry for being deemed "culturally significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress.

In the film, dance is as important as Stephen Sondheim's lyrics and Leonard Bernstein's music. The dancers are front and center, acting— through Robbins' difficult, stylized, and emotional choreography—the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet torn apart by gang warfare. Not much is known, however, about the amazing actor-dancers who played the Jets and the Sharks. Some of them were not even listed in the film's credits.

Robert Banas and Tony Mordente, who played the Jet gang members Joyboy and Action, had the idea to put together a memoir of the "West Side" actor-dancers. "Our Story—Jets & Sharks—Then and Now" covers their auditions, their filming experience, and how the film influenced their lives and careers. The book was released in 2011 to mark the film's half-century celebration, as was a three-disc Blu-ray DVD.
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petzipellepingo: (wss cool by dallowayward)
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Our Story Jets and Sharks Then and Now: As Told By Cast Members From the Movie West Side Story by 12 cast members from the 1961 film. 300 pages of reminiscences from Jets Russ Tamblyn, Tony Mordente, Bert Michaels, David Bean, Harvey Hohnecker(Evans), Robert Banas, Gina Trikonis and Carole D'Andrea as well as Sharks Eddie Verso, Nick Covacevich, Joanne Miya and Maria Henley. Read more... )
[identity profile] petzipellepingo.livejournal.com
Our Story Jets and Sharks Then and Now: As Told By Cast Members From the Movie West Side Story by 12 cast members from the 1961 film. 300 pages of reminiscences from Jets Russ Tamblyn, Tony Mordente, Bert Michaels, David Bean, Harvey Hohnecker(Evans), Robert Banas, Gina Trikonis and Carole D'Andrea as well as Sharks Eddie Verso, Nick Covacevich, Joanne Miya and Maria Henley. Read more... )
petzipellepingo: (wss 50 year anniversary by teragramm)
[personal profile] petzipellepingo
Our Story Jets and Sharks Then and Now: As Told By Cast Members From the Movie West Side Story . According to the blurb, it's written by 12 cast members. I have ordered a copy from Amazon and I'll report as soon as I get my hands on it.

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