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"West Side Story" at the Academy Theater


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#1 of 5 OFFLINE   Jonathan Burk

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Posted January 07 2003 - 05:38 AM

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West Side Story at the Academy Theater.

Last night, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences held a screening of West Side Story in their series of Best Picture Winners.

As with other screenings, the entertainment started early, at around 7:00, with footage from the Academy Awards ceremony of that year. Bob Hope hosted (again), and continued to bring down the house. He is one funny guy, and I couldn't help but wonder what audiences will think 40 years from now when they see footage of Whoopie hosting. The program for the evening mentioned that "Stan Berman, a professional gate crasher, bypassed 125 uniformed guards and went on stage to hand a home-made Oscar to Bob Hope". During his tenure of hosting, Bob Hope continually joked about not receiving nominations for his work, so I imagine this was a fan trying to make up for it.

We then heard as curtain music a recording of the Academy Award winning song of that year, "Moon River" by Henry Mancini. It was the usual "pop" version that we've all heard many times, and after it was over, the host of the evening (Randy Haberkamp) mentioned that they had found the version sung by Audrey Hepburn, and didn't know why it wasn't played. I would have liked to hear it.

Then, the weekly spiel about the "rules" for the audience (no talking, whispering, eating, drinking, krinkly candy wrappers, getting up 2 minutes before the film is over because you know how it ends, and of course no cell phones, beepers, or beeping watches!). Because we hear the same rules every week, and most weeks there is still a cell phone going off, Randy tries to find different ways to deliver them. Last night, the spiel was delivered on video, by his mother!

Then the introductions. As the films get more recent, more and more cast members are "around" to visit. Last night probably set a record. In addition to members of the crew, production staff, and several of the dancers and gang members, we got to meet Anybody's (Susan Oakes), Bernardo (George Chakiris), Anita (Rita Moreno), Riff (Russ Tamblyn) and director Robert Wise. George Chakiris gave a touching tribute to Natalie Wood, describing what it was like to have such a big movie star on the set, and how much they all missed her. And Rita Moreno (who, incidentally, has won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony) told about the difficulty she had in holding the last move of "America", where she has to jump onto Bernardo's shoulder. She kept sliding off. She said it was because of her large posterior, George said it was because of the fabrics they were wearing.

After the cast members got one final round of applause, we were shown home movies from the special effects development, showing how opticals were done in the "old days". I was amazed by the motion shots; they timed dolly movements with a stopwatch to make sure they were paced correctly. No motion control cameras here. The closing credits were especially difficult (where the camera moves to different portions of a wall to focus on different credits), because each credit had to be shown in the proper size and time, due to contractual specs.

And then the movie. My only exposure to West Side Story was the original widescreen laserdisc in 1992 (the first to be transferred from a 65mm source), and I've watched it probably a dozen times. Since I always skip some of the musical numbers, I'm not sure I ever sat through the whole film. Last night was a revelation. The print was a 35mm Tech IB print from the 60's, with a 6 track magnetic soundtrack provided for the screening. If I hadn't been told this was a 35mm print, I could have been convinced it was 70mm. Many of the shots were incredibly sharp, and I was continually saying to myself "That looks so good!". There were some scratches running through some of the scenes, but nothing too disturbing. And the colors were astounding. Shot after shot took my breath away, especially shots with deep red. Randy Haberkamp said the Academy hoped to partner on a 65mm restoration in the future, so I'll cross my fingers.

But most unexpected was the sound. I've seen some darn good films in some darn good theaters over the years, and until the day I die, last night will rank as one of the most incredible sounding movies I've ever heard. I'm not an "analogue" person per se, but I've never heard a digital soundtrack that moved me like what I heard last night. And I've been to three sound "bake-off's" in that same theater, where they play 10 minute clips from the 7 best sounding movies of the year! I also have the CD of the film soundtrack, which I'll probably never listen to again. The music was just incredible, and I actually enjoyed the musical numbers I usually skip on the LD Posted Image. I'm also thinking of picking up the DTS laserdisc, since this is probably the closest I'll ever get to what I heard last night.

In all, the whole experience was pretty overwhelming. I found myself extremely moved by the film, and I was once again reminded that I haven't really "seen" these films until I've seen them in a theater. The next 4 weeks bring Lawrence of Arabia, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music (newly restored) in 70mm. Hope to see you other LA members there!

#2 of 5 OFFLINE   MatthewA

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Posted January 07 2003 - 05:44 AM

I'll be going to see the last two films you mentioned in L.A. I might even try to get to the Technicolor festival at the Egyptian.

Enough is enough, Disney. No more evasions or excuses. We DEMAND the release Song of the South on Blu-ray along with the uncut version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks on Blu-ray. I am going to boycott The Walt Disney Company until then. And while you're at it, PLEASE stop dropping DVD/laserdisc extras from Blu-ray releases of other films.


#3 of 5 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted January 07 2003 - 08:58 AM

Oh wish I could attend!!! Living in Wash. DC makes it rough Posted Image

Sound of Music restoration on 70mm? when that comes please see if it lacks the horrid red-line/scraches that mar the DVD transfer opening scene (not to mention the excessive grain that only affects certain scenes and seems to be a symptom of poor source materials cobbled together from different prints rather than an artistic intent).

Now that is really one title that Fox should reissue. The current DVD is just plain BAD.

-dave
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#4 of 5 OFFLINE   Aaron Reynolds

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Posted January 07 2003 - 10:09 AM

I've owned two different LDs of West Side Story: the Criterion CLV disc from the early '90s and the later MGM re-issue (with the red cover and a DD 5.1 track) from the late '90s. Prior to purchasing it, I had heard that the Criterion was not one of their best discs (it appears to be from a 35mm source, and the sound is rather muted), but I picked it up at one of their "we're losing the rights to this title" sales for very little. The later MGM disc is phenomenal. While I wouldn't say that there was a huge improvement in picture quality, the sound is significantly better. I rank it among one of the best PCM tracks on LD that I've ever heard (my favourites being Apocalypse Now and the Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible). I've only listened to the DD track casually, so I can't really tell you anything about it, but that PCM track...wow. If you can find a copy, I suggest picking it up. Jonathan: I certainly envy you. I'd love to see an IB print with 6-track mag sound of West Side Story. I have seen a 70mm six track print of Apocalypse Now, which stands to this day as the best moviegoing experience of my life, both visually and sonically.

#5 of 5 OFFLINE   John Gilmore

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Posted January 07 2003 - 05:56 PM

Jonathan: I've already ordered my tickets for The Sound of Music. I can't wait! This is the movie that got me interested in widescreen spectaculars in the first place. I remember my mom taking me to see it in 70mm during its 1973 re-issue, and being amazed that the sound actually followed the characters around on the screen. I hope the Academy's 70mm print has directionalized dialogue. Did you notice any directionalized dialogue on the West Side Story print?
John




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