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Non-Review Review: West Side Story

In some ways, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of West Side Story is a match made in heaven, a union that feels as perfect as the story’s central romance.

After all, West Side Story is one of the quintessential American texts. In its review of the classic Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins adaptation, The Hollywood Reporter described the film musical as “the one dramatic form that is purely American and purely Hollywood”, and West Side Story is a musical that takes that idea to its extreme, with a show-stopping number literally titled In America. More than that, the previous cinematic adaptation stands as one of the virtuoso examples of classic Hollywood studio filmmaking, with its beautiful production design, large cast, and beautiful backlot.

“Do you want to dance or do you want to fight?”

Steven Spielberg is perhaps the most purely American and most purely Hollywood director of his generation. He is just as much a monolyth of American popular culture as West Side Story or even the cinemative musical. Writer Arthur Ryel-Lindsey might have sarcastically declared that “Steven Spielberg is American culture”, but there’s a great deal of truth in it. Depending on who you ask, Spielberg is “the defining American populist of his generation”, “possibly the greatest American director”, or even simply “synonymous with cinema.” So West Side Story feels like a wonderful synthesis of material and director.

Plus, you know, Spielberg knows how to direct sharks.

“Maria, you gotta see her…”

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New Escapist Column! On The Reflective and Introspective Nature of Late Steven Spielberg…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist on Friday. With the looming release of West Side Story, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the late career of Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg is a director who defined and shaped Hollywood, largely by inventing the modern blockbuster with Jaws. What is really interesting about so much of his twenty-first century output, starting with A.I. Artificial Intelligence and continuing into films like Ready Player One, is the sense in which Spielberg seems to be grappling with the long-term and unintended consequences of how he shaped cinema, to the point that many of his modern movies – from War Horse to The Post – seem to be the kinds of movies that he squeezed out of the market.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.