Jets! Snarks! 50 Years of West Side Story Spoofs

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 15 2011 2:39 PM

Play It “Cool”: 50 Years of West Side Story Spoofs

Still from West Side Story

Still from the West Side Story 50th anniversary Blu-ray courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

West Side Story pirouettes its way onto a 50th anniversary DVD today, bringing the iconic Oscar-winning film into Blu-ray definition. In the 50 years since the film’s release, it’s not only earned 10 Oscars and spots on AFI’s lists of the 100 greatest American films, but also countless tributes, spoofs, and parodies—from Michael Jackson music videos to VMA medleys to viral YouTube shorts.

There are many reasons West Side Story (like select other Hollywood properties) is so ripe for parody—much more so than your average Best Picture winner. From the Bernstein score and Sondheim lyrics to the Jerome Robbins choreography and the swooping camerawork, it remains truly thrilling and iconic, sticking with viewers even today. It helps that the basic plot comes from one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays: Everyone gets the gist whether they’ve seen it or not. Also, dance-fighting is inherently ridiculous.

There’s one final reason, and it explains why “rumble” numbers like “Cool” have spawned more take-offs than such lovely songs as “Maria” and “Tonight” or even catchy tunes like “I Feel Pretty” and “America.” Because West Side Story (more than most twists on Romeo & Juliet) focuses on its two rival gangs, it provides a readymade structure for any remake or parody. To write a West Side Story send-up, all you need is the power to hold two opposing ideas in your mind, and the wisdom to make them dance-fight.

Forrest Wickman Forrest Wickman

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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