West Side Story

If an award was given for best all-around film, the 1961 Best Picture Oscar-winning movie West Side Story would be a strong contender.

Its powerful musical score provides a colorful backdrop to much romance and comedy in the first half of the film, and and to tragic drama in its second half. Add in the expertly choreographed dance numbers, and two supporting acting Oscars, and you’ve got quite a movie experience.

The Redford Theatre magnified the quality of this film on September 26, 27, and 28, 2014 with a richly hued 35-millimeter print of the movie, as well as a guest appearance by one of its most prominent stars—Rita Moreno, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress as Anita.

I attended a question-and-answer session with Rita on Saturday, September 27. I was sitting in the auditorium, enjoying some chocolate snacks that were provided by Redford, when I heard a loud burst of applause from the concession lobby, where the snacks were being served. I knew that the star of the show had arrived.

I got my first glimpse of Rita as she sat quietly at the back of the auditorium, talking with a theater representative near the audio-visual booth. The big screen magnifies personalities so strongly that it always takes a little effort to adjust to the physical presence of a movie star, being a human being just like you and me.

Soon, Rita was on stage, stylish and witty, showing more energy than you might expect from someone in their early 80s. She talked about her personal and professional life, including her arrival with her mother in New York City as an immigrant from Puerto Rico.

She also talked about her struggles to find better parts in the movies; her experience making West Side Story; and her family life, which included a long marriage and acting with her daughter.

Rita also mentioned a long love affair with Marlon Brando, whose intense acting style influenced how Rita performed in some of the more dramatic scenes in West Side Story.

One of my favorite moments of Rita’s visit was during the intermission of the screening of the movie on Sunday, September 28. She excitedly talked about an upcoming scene in the movie—the ensemble “Tonight” number that led into the pivotal rumble scene.

This movie wasn’t just an important part of her career; she was as much of a fan of West Side Story as the other people in the Redford auditorium.

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Copyright © 2014 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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