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Moreen Simpson: Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story deserves a sold-out standing ovation

Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story came 60 years after the original film
Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story came 60 years after the original film

Ever since the witch in Snow White terrified five-year-old Mo at the Majestic circa 1953, I’ve been in love with films.

I suspect it was inherited from mum, who was fascinated by the lives of the stars and went to the Queen’s (corner of Union Street and Back Wynd) every Tuesday night with her pals, me usually in tow. I adored the intoxicating atmosphere of the cinema – fleapit though it was.

Later, because both our mums worked full-time, me and my (still) bestie, Christine, spent so many school holiday afternoons at “the pictures”, revelling in religious epics like Ben-Hur.

I collected the monthly Film Review magazine for all the latest goss on new releases and their stars, storing and cataloguing them like the geek I was. Years later, unknown to me on honeymoon, mum chucked the flaming lot – worth a fortune today.

Ah, but that unforgettable evening in 1963, when I was 15. The Odeon, in Justice Mill Lane, showed all the biggies first, including intermissions and huge programmes. Me, Christine and our mums went to West Side Story, just because it was the latest “big film” – no real idea what to expect. Well, from that first whistling sound over the eagle’s-eye view of New York, I was transfixed.

Never heard electrifying music like it before, breathtaking dancing, dramatic singing. Left the Odeon in snorts of tears, trying to hum the songs. No record player at home, yet I bought the LP, lugged my huge reel-to-reel tape recorder up to a friend’s house and recorded the soundtrack. I played it so often, I soon knew every word of every song.

Bigger and better than the original

Scroll forward. It was inevitable one of my babes would inherit the Cinema Gene. Step forward my loon, at just five writing to director Steven Spielberg after seeing ET, thrilling to Star Wars – as a teenager he even got a Saturday job at Blockbuster so he could wallow in a multitude of movies.

Imagine, therefore, my reaction in 2014 when he told me Spielberg, still his favourite director, was rumoured to be planning a remake of my favourite film. Spik aboot a collision of comets. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since, months ago even getting a glimpse of trailers.

Monday at Vue was my Tonight, Tonight. The loon predicted exactly my own thoughts: I’d hate it. Or like it, but not as much as the original. No way would I prefer the new one. For a start, there was just us and another three folk in the cinema. You mad old Aberdonians! Where are you? You loved it then, you’ll adore it now.

Then came the familiar whistling and I whispered to masellie: “Go on Spielberg. Beat the best film I’ve ever seen.” Readers, he did it. I never thought I’d say this, but it’s better than the original. Bigger, rougher, more exciting, more heartbreaking.

A few scenes in, my son asked if I was enjoying it. Too excited to say anything, I waggled my delighted heidie and gave a double thumbs up. A whilie later, he was left in no doubt. Feel gype that I am, at the end of the America scene, I stood up and clapped. If only the cinema had been full and we all did it.


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