The Year of Words: Day 349 - To re or not to re, that is the question?

Today the year of words is distinctly educational. I understand both Merrimans and Collins have the candidate verb to re out for public debate in their respective new words online polls. - In this case. it's short for remake, specifically films. That will come later with the promised review of West Side Sto-(re)

But, first an archaic I found quite by chance but is confirmed by the archaic sections of the OED and CED. For those who like to verify sources, you'll find golumptious in the WS Gilbert archives along with that lesser known ditty Sir Galahad the Galumptious.- that can be found at:

Raleigh's Stride 2 bakfiet

It isn't often I can introduce you to the correct word for something many will have seen without realising that's what it is.

I refer to the bakfiet - a kind of cross between a butcher's bike and a Victorian enamel bath.

These come in two main forms,. the one shown to here for carriage of children and/or dogs. This example is made by Raleigh under the Strike 2 name and retails at just shy of £4,500

The other form is the form I first saw, narrower and slightly longer and used for selling buns, flowers or drinks. The commercial form can come with water, power and even some minimal refrigeration. I'm told you can get the basic commercial; model for £4,000 ranging to just under £9,000. Taken from the Dutch name for this contraption, please welcome the bakfiet to a street near you soon.

Words to one side, now to the main course. West Side Story (2021) which I watched last Wednesday evening with Vaughan, sister Maria Concepta and her sidekick Zubediah Shishkebab. (Long story, don't ask - for the purposes of today you may refer to them as Maria and Helen). The review does not contain any spoilers.

Some initial declarations of interest to get out of the way. I don't just dislike most remakes I really, really, really dislike most remakes. They are nearly without exception unimaginative, unnecessary and lazy in my eyes.

I should also declare a life long love of the music from West Side Story and a belief that Stephen Sondheim wrote lyrics (in general) yet to be equalled in musical theatre. I grew up on the 1961 film version and (as Helen can vouch) know the score and vocal parts by heart. - I was also lucky enough to play Riff in a production in Reading in what feels like another life. So I quite like it as a musical.

Steven Speilberg

When I first heard that the 1961 film was being remade it was an almost autonomic reaction to dislike the idea. Why meddle with something that's pretty near perfect?

Of course, when you put childhood rose painted spectacles and personal feelings aside,. the original film isn't perfect for reasons I'll mention later, but it remains dear to my heart - so there was a mountain to climb..

Others have come close to tackling the subject matter perhaps the most obvious example being In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I'm yet to be captivated by Miranda's most well known work, I am one of the few who dislike Hamilton. However, I hope his latest creation Sunday may change that. If he had tried a remake it would have been before his time in my view. I half jokingly refer to In the Heights as East Side Story though it was clearly heavily influenced by its West Side cousin.

Then I heard Steven Speilberg was tackling the film and I became intrigued. I know how much (like me) he loves the music of Bernstein and the respect he had for Sondheim. I also admire his ability to be painfully honest in his films. True, he can be sickly (though very effectively) sweet - think ET, BFG, Hook and Gremlins.

He can also be gritty, unapologetic and graphic showing much darker and complex emotions. Examples of this would include The Colour Purple, Schindler's List and Empire of the Sun. So if I would trust anyone it should be him.

So I found myself entering the screening with an equal mix of doubt and hope. I wanted to like it but feared it may be careless with shoulders on which it sought to stand and reckless with the real affection in which the original is held.

1961 version and backdrop

I need not have worried. In its opening thirty seconds I was reassured. Speilberg was more than alive to these facts.

The backdrop to the opening scenes showed a slum clearance to make way for the New York Lincoln centre. An interesting location given that was one of the locations at which the original film was premiered.

The edifice standing in shot was an exact replica of the building shown here in the Sharks dance - we were already in familar territory - I know where I am Speilberg reassures. Then the first six notes of the new film score reprise the Jets call to arms. A new style though - a longer pause between the call and the reply. For me it was a symbolic call of continuity and reassurance from one version to the the next. A very clever and respectful introduction from the Director whose love for the material is obvious throughout;

Rita Moreno as Anita (1961) and Valentina (2021)

The only major change from the original in terms of cast is the replacement of Doc (the drug store owner) with his widow Valentina. The eagle eyed will note a beautiful note of continuity as this role is played by Rita Moreno who played Anita in the original 1961 version. Although she was the only Puerto Rican in the original film she was required to wear makeup to darken her skin tone. Although I understand the sensitivities around that it never detracted from the piece for me as I simply didn't know it had happened. The remake has no such issues and both gangs were scrupulously chosen to accurately represent the demographic they portray.

The cameo is purposeful, relevant and quite charming. I for one hope to be as fit at ninety. A beautiful touch of continuity..

Russ Tamlyn 1961
Mike Faist 2021

I have to comment on Riff (well, I don't have to, but I will). Both the original Riff (Russ Tamlyn) and the new Riff (Mike Faist) have a gritty edge though for me Riff is always Russ Tamlyn. The new casting is just a little too cerebral and lacks the physicality of a Riff for me. However, the portayal is well judged and Mike Faist does sing the full role - Russ Tamblyn was dubbed for When you're a jet in the original because of his range and tone. Faist had no such issues and I can appreciate and like both interpretations.

Casting is genuinely exquisitely done with Anita a particular gem and far more believable gangs. If I have one criticism it would be that the ages are 2-3 screen years below where they need to be for my taste, but I accept that's entirely personal.

David Alvarez 2021
George Chakiris 1961

I also preferred the characterisation of George Chakiris as Bernado in the 1961 version. Although there is nothing wrong with David Alverez portrayal it places emphasis on the thuggish aspect of Bernado and makes him less of a charming rebel. If any character has been baddied up in my view Bernardo is the one.,

Again I admire and like both interpretations.. Given the far more explicitly violent nature of both gangs a suave and charming Bernardo may not have cut the mustard. For me however, Chakiris will always inhabit Bernardo.

What Speilberg does with subtle excellence is develop a medium bodied red into a full bodied red by adding back story, context and realism. The slum redevelopment sub-plot reinforces place, purpose and belonging. Fill in plot for Tony, Chico and others brings new depth and reason for some of the scenes and is so light touch it feels entirely natural..

If you love the dancing of West Side Story you won't be disappointed and if dance is ever warfare it's in this version. If you love the music it's here and sung by those acting the parts - a significant difference to the original.

I won't say more as it draws me into spoiler territory, but in short I loved this version. I will watch both happily and love both for different reasons. They are sufficiently different not to compete and sufficiently similar to be respectful of the original.

For me you couldn't beat the music of Bernstein, the lyrics of Sondheim or the choreography of Jerome Robbins. The original direction by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins was truly ground breaking and again needs no imitation,

Where Speilberg succeeds is by not trying to improve on them. He refreshes and updates the context in which the film is set and allows a far more graphic and realistic representation of gang-warfare.. He brings far more than painful aggression for the sake of it. He pushes new boundaries and some old boundaries in new ways. Neither version is perfect., neither is in my view better - both are great at what they do in the time they did it.

This is one of the rare remakes that works - see it if you get the chance.


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