On the wall at the top of our staircase in
hangs a framed poster, a gift from my next-to-youngest sister. When she spotted it in a shop, she immediately thought of me and my enduring love for the film it advertises – the immortal Wales West Side Story.
I first saw the film itself 47 years ago this month, when I was 18 and had not long left school. I was working for a couple of months in a rather run-down café near the local bus station, earning the money for my fare to
, where I was about to spend 3 months improving my spoken German by working in what was then known as an old-people’s home. On one side of the bus station stood one of the town’s remaining 3 cinemas, the Hamburg , and one day I noticed it was showing the musical about which I had heard so much, but which I had never managed to see. Palladium
The following Saturday I went to the afternoon show and nearly 3 hours later left the cinema not quite the same person. As I came out onto the pavement it seemed as though everything was the same, yet not the same, as though I was seeing it all through different eyes. It was my first experience of the transformative power of film and I’ve never forgotten how it felt.
Being such a wide and voracious reader I already knew that books could change the way one looks at the world, but film had always seemed too slight and ephemeral to have the same effect. That was probably due to the kind of films a teenager normally went to see in those days, but it meant that I simply wasn’t prepared for the effect this particular film had on me.
The combination of music and dance, of drama, pathos and (sometimes savage) humour totally enthralled me and it is still one of my very favourite films. Add to that the way it deals with some really big and difficult subjects such as immigration and discrimination, poverty and gang warfare and the fact that it was filmed on location among the crumbling slums of New York's West Side, just before they were demolished, and you may begin to understand its hold on me.
I’ve seen it several times since that first viewing - in German with my penfriend in Hamburg, in French when I spent some weeks working as an au pair in Bourges and more than once again in English. Each time it has worked its magic and I probably know all the songs off by heart. In case you don’t, here are two which highlight the differences in background and experience between the two groups of young people who clash so tragically in this modern reinterpretation of Romeo and Juliet.