The anniversary of my magnificent obsession

Jets trying to scare the sharks. Photo from LIFE

Today is the anniversary of an event that occurred eight years ago.

It was a Saturday, at the end of my 8th grade spring break.  I had just gotten over being sick and had watched many other great films for the first time while I was couch ridden including “Peyton Place” (1957) and “Singin’ In the Rain” (1952).  But none of them were compared to this film.

On March 8, 2003, my dad thought I should be introduced to “West Side Story” (1961) because of my newly developed interest in classic musicals.   He now shakes his head and says he created a monster.

Who knew snapping fingers, mambos, dancing on roof tops and signal whistles in NYC would be so Earth shattering for a 14-year-old?

I sat there in one of our family’s old corduroy, gold rocking arm chairs, skeptical on what this movie would be like. But after the movie was over, I floated upstairs to my room feeling a change inside me and knowing my movie interests would never be the same.

Maria spotting Tony for the first time

It wasn’t just one scene in “West Side Story” that affected me:  it was the whole movie:
-The beauty of everything blurring around Tony and Maria when they first see each other.
-The emotion that fills Tony’s face as he sings “Maria.”
-The mix of reds and orange hues in the movie set that fit the movie so well.
-The last heart-wrenching 30 minutes of the movie that never fails to make me tear up.

Prior to “West Side Story” I was already well into my old movie interest starting the previous summer when I became fascinated with Audrey Hepburn and then Doris Day.

I’m not sure if I would have appreciated “West Side Story” as much as I did if I hadn’t already had a good classic movie cushion to fall back on.

But “West Side Story” wasn’t just a passing interest, it became a lifestyle.

I perfected my whistling so I could do the signal at the beginning of the movie. I learned how to snap so I could snap like the Sharks and the Jets. I a tried my hardest to learn the mambo and dances from “The Dance at the Gym”-which didn’t work out too well. I printed over 100 photos from the internet and plastered my closet doors with them.

Much to my family’s frustration I also listened to the soundtrack-every night in the shower. It quickly got old for everyone but me.

It is safe to say that I was hyperventilatingly, unhealthily obsessed with “West Side Story.”

I try to play it “Cool” now

I still love the movie, but it is safe to say I’m not longer obsessed. This crazy obsession lasted through my freshman year of high school. It tapered off when I found other great movies like “So Proudly We Hail” (1942), “Since You Went Away” (1944) and “Sunset Boulevard” (1951).

I can still listen to the soundtrack and know exactly what is going on during the song, and I still cry at the end of the movie.

Though my “West Side Story” obsession may have irritated my family, caused friends to roll their eyes and was a bit unnatural, I don’t see it as a bad thing.

“West Side Story” opened me even more to musicals and classic movies; searching for another movie that could beat it. It’s still one of my favorite movies and I bless the day I discovered it.

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4 thoughts on “The anniversary of my magnificent obsession

  1. I’ve never seen West Side Story, believe it or not! I think I need to check it out now! 🙂


  2. Like you, I first saw West Side Story on TV as a teenager (this was back in the 80s) and I was hooked from the very first shot of Riff snapping his fingers. I didn’t become as obsessed as you did but it was my introduction to movie musicals, and as a result, I sought out tons of other old Hollywood movies and musicals that got me quickly labeled as a ‘nerd’ by friends and family. I didn’t care. I wear my nerdiness with pride: WSS opened up an entire new world to me, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.


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