The world lives in the anguish of whether Steven Spielberg’s “Love, Sublime Love” is any better than the original 1961 version. Calm down, folks: I’ve seen Spielberg’s movie and am willing to give up my sentence. Here it goes: even without Natalie Wood, it’s better.
And it’s better because we’re talking about cinema, not theater: Robert Wise’s film still maintained certain formal and narrative ties to the stage.
This is seen in the characters’ dialogues, in the fights between the Jets and the Sharks (a mere prolongation of the choreography, however brilliant it was), even in the romantic moments between Tony and Maria (the first meeting, for example, is an artificiality who never convinced me).
Spielberg’s film seeks to translate the play by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim into a strongly visual and realistic language, without ever losing the story’s beauty and emotional force.
In a way, Spielberg took off his gloves and gave “Amor, Sublime Amor” an urban ferocity that the original film lacked.
This ferocity is shaped in the opening sequence, when we see the city as a wasteland – and the Jets emerging from the underground like rats among ruins.
In Spielberg’s film, Riff is a street thug, not a smug blond good guy; Bernardo is a boxer; Tony himself is an ex-con, looking for a different life away from the Jets.
And the central female characters, Anita and Maria, are flesh-and-blood women who talk, sing and dance as if their lives depended on it.
For the rest, the novelties introduced in the story by screenwriter Tony Kushner are more modest than they seem – and, when they are not modest, they are perfectly correct.
To begin with, the critical view of racism and police violence was not a discovery by Kushner (or Spielberg). It was already present in the 1957 musical and later film, and in tones that seem far more brutal to me.
It is enough to recall the figure of Inspector Schrank in 1961 –an instigator of violence, without ambiguities– to understand how the political causes of the present are older than one imagines.
Finally, the introduction of a new character, Valentina (Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 version), who is truly morally aware of the tragedy and personification of the happy fate that Tony and Maria will never have, is to be applauded.
Allowing Valentina to sing “Somewhere” and not the film’s love interest is a choice that is as risky as it is prodigious.
Steven Spielberg has always been the most musical of Hollywood’s “raging bulls” — I’m talking about that gang of the 1970s that was born to revolutionize American cinema. Never filmed a musical?
Wrong: he filmed several, even if they weren’t musical. In such works as “Hook Me If You Can”, “Hook, The Return of Captain Hook” or any of the “Indiana Jones”, Spielberg has always been the supreme choreographer, using the camera as an orchestra.
Now, in “Amor, Sublime Amor”, that vocation is perfectly fulfilled.
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