Home > Reviews > WEST SIDE STORY eludes me again

WEST SIDE STORY eludes me again

Somehow the universe seems to be conspiring against letting me see the 1961 Robert Wise film of West Side Story.  Or at least, letting me see it in the proper format.  I figure if I’m going to watch it, I should watch it as it was meant to be seen, in its full Super Panavision width, since its visuals and choreography were designed for that format and a version that cuts off portions of the image to fit a taller/narrower screen would be incomplete.  But the version I was able to borrow from the library was pan-and-scanned.  There have been times when Turner Classic Movies has shown the film uncut and in proper format, and there have been at least two occasions when I’ve tried to watch it there, but each time, something has happened to interrupt my viewing very early in the film.  I think there was a power failure or something the first time.  The most recent time, it was a call from my very ill father that led to the extended hospitalization that, ultimately, he never recovered from.

So it was a while before I was willing to try again, but eventually I put the film in my Netflix queue, and was told I had a Very Long Wait for it.  Once or twice, the “wait” notation vanished from my queue page, but by the time I sent back my current DVD and the next one was processed, I’d missed my shot at it.  So I was thrilled when I finally, finally got the mail telling me that WSS had been shipped to me.  And just now, I eagerly put it into the DVD player, hoping at last to see this film that’s eluded me for so long.

And the first thing that came onscreen was a message telling me the film had been formatted to fit my screen.

AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Okay, it’s not a “fullscreen” presentation.  It is letterboxed, at least on my old CRT television.  But it’s apparently a standard HDTV-type aspect ratio instead of the film’s full widescreen format.  So portions of the picture are still missing.  And if I’d been willing to settle for an incomplete picture, I would’ve just watched the version from the library years ago.  The whole reason I’ve held out this long was in hopes of getting to see the complete, unaltered version of the film.

And I’m not just mad at the DVD manufacturers, but at myself, since there was a one-time-only opportunity to see the film in select theaters last month, arranged by TCM, and although I made a cursory effort to look into it, I didn’t pursue it aggressively enough to get a ticket, since it would’ve been a late showing and I don’t like driving at night, and since I figured I’d eventually get it from Netflix.  So, yeah.

I guess the question is, do I lower my standards and watch the DVD anyway, or do I send it back unviewed and hope I find out about TCM’s next showing in time to watch or DVR it?  I mean, given my track record, if I don’t settle for the bird in the hand I have now, I may never get to see this movie.   At least if I watch this, I’ll get most of the experience.  But I’ve been holding out for the “right” version for so long that my disappointment with the reformatted version might sour it for me.  Right now I’m just too frustrated to want to watch it.  Maybe that’ll change if I give it a few days.

It’s just so weird that so many things keep going wrong with my efforts to see this particular movie.  I’m not even that big a fan of musicals, though I like Sondheim (who did the lyrics, of course) and I’m interested in Robert Wise films.  Under normal circumstances, I’d just be curious about this film, not passionate.  But this one has eluded me for so long that it really meant a lot to me to finally get to see it in its full and intact form, and now I’m really frustrated that the universe has screwed me over yet again.

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  1. Bruce Gibson
    December 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    West Side Story is scheduled to be on HBO Signature on December 14th (7:45am ET) & 17th (6:00am ET). However, I doubt it will be televised in the proper format.

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