Saturday, December 27, 2008

Time Regained - West Side Story in 70mm

It's impossible to fully recreate the original impression created by a sensational work of art. We read the stories of the riot that broke out at the premiere of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, but the separation of time divorces us from re-experiencing the full visceral impact of that event.

Leonard Bernstein's musical West Side Story was the sensation that demarcated the turning point of the 20th Century. Written at the crest of the Eisenhower fifties, with its overlay of "normalcy" in the clean suburban homes and the deceptive whitebread wholesomeness of the post-war boom, West Side Story, violent, raw and tragic, presaged the coming of the darker, splintering, disintegrating time to come.

You have an opportunity, but only through Thursday, January 1st, to revisit the excitement that the film version of West Side Story created in 1961, with a rare showing of a new 70mm print at Chicago's Music Box Theater.

Read all about the work, its troubled creation and how it holds up today, with pictures, here.

Caution!!!! - Reader Mike Doyle reports in a comment to this article that he left a later screening at the Music Box because of repeated projector breakdowns. This still may be your last chance to see West Side Story in 70mm, but if you're going to go, you may want to call the Music Box first to make sure they'e resolved their projector problems for this run.


Anonymous said...

BUT...good luck if you go. I attended the 8:00 p.m. showing last Friday, and the projector broke down four times in 90 minutes, for anywhere from five to ten minutes each time. In the middle of songs, in the middle of scenes, sudden blackouts.

I finally gave up, demanded a refund, and left. A follower on Twitter who attended another film at the Music Box this week told me they're still have projector troubles--so much as I'd like to use the free ticket they gave me as a door prize, I don't know that it would do much good...

Lynn Becker said...

Wow, sorry.

When I went the problem was confined to botched reel changes, with gaps going from several reels to the next.

Indifferent projection is one of the downsides at the Music Box - including bad focus and loud conversation spilling forth from the projection booth. That shouldn't be hard to fix and I don't know why they don't do it.

Sometimes the problem could be the condition of archival prints, but my understanding is this is a new West Side Story 70mm print making the rounds.

The more frightening scenario is that one of more of the 70mm projectors are actually breaking down, which would be really bad as, for better or worse, the Music Box seems to last last venue capable of showing 70mm.

The Gene Siskel announced a 70mm showing of Lawrence of Arabia a couple of years ago, but then it was dropped in favor of a regular 35mm print, and I've never seen them claim to show any 70mm since then. Do they not have the money for the projectors? Will they not fit in their booths? If anyone has the story about this, I'd love to know.

And thanks for heads up, Mike.

Backlight said...

Caught the Tues 12/30 8:00pm screening...

I think they may have solved their projection problems by switching to a 35mm print. No projector breakdowns, but the image was nowhere near 70mm quality, and the Roadshow intermission was missing.

Lynn Becker said...

Having never seen the original engagement, I'll defer to others of how it was presented, but apparently director Robert Wise wanted to film to play straight through - without an intermission - while giving exhibitors the option to add it if they wanted. (Apparently, that option is also available on the DVD.)

Anonymous said...

Sorry to read/hear about the downer experiences that you all had with the 70mm film print, especially when it involved such a beautiful film as West Side Story. They should've had better projectionists at the theatre at that time.

Anonymous said...

The 70mm version of the film West Side Story will be presented at a theatre not too far from where I presently live, this coming September, for one night. West Side Story is such a beautiful film that I hope they have a top-notch projectionist at this theatre.

Anonymous said...

Just last month, the Somerville Theatre, in Somerville, MA played the 70mm film version of West Side Story as part of their annual 70mm Film Festival, for two days in a row. I saw both screenings of West Side Story with some friends, and we all had a wonderful time!

Not only was there a really good projector and projectionist, but the film itself was pristine, and the soundtrack to the film was punchy and in one's face, like it's supposed to be. Here's hoping there there'll be more opportunities to see the 1961 film version of West Side Story, especially in 70mm!