Recently I stumbled across this photo by Bruce Davidson, from a collection on 1950s Brooklyn teenage gangs that I first saw a couple of years ago:
And it got me doodling some 50s teenage hoodlums, which in turn made me want to dig out my West Side Story dvd.
I love West Side Story. I mean, I really really love it. People who don’t like musicals tend to get this eyes-glossing-over thing when I mention it, which is sad because, seriously guys, this aint no normal musical. Yes, it takes a while to get used to the fighting-via-dance format of a lot of the film (Quick! He’s using jazz-hands!), but when you do you start to notice, shit, that dancing is pretty physical, and the music is gorgeous, and the lyrics are so, so sad. That chirpy song the kids sing about Officer Krupke is fun, right? It’s also about a bunch of teenagers -when “teenagers” were an entirely new concept- with junkie parents who beat them, a society that’s failing them, and a hopelessly bleak future. Tony and Maria’s Romeo & Juliet love-story isn’t the only tragic thing about the film.
But this is me talking – I love the ’50s and ’60s, I love New York, and I’m hopelessly soppy – so I was always going to love it. But if you get the chance to watch this film, before your eyes gloss over, admire the acrobatic, incredibly physical dancing, listen for the beautifully tremulous strings behind the vocals in “One Hand, One Heart”, try and catch the brilliantly sharp lyrics about the way 1950s USA treated immigrants in “America”, and the heartbreakingly sad little lines: “Why do you kids live like there’s a war on?”
Also, you know that finger-clicking is cool.
Here’s a collection of images I’ve got stuck in a file on my desktop, some from West Side Story, some by the brilliant Bruce Davidson, a couple of gorgeous illustrations of New York in the ’50s by M.Sasek (one of my favourite illustrators), and a few others thrown in for good measure:
And here, the West Side Story prologue in full, because I love you: