50DMC #35: Favorite Adaptation

The 50 Day Movie Challenge asks one question every day, to be answered by a few paragraphs and a clip, if possible. Click here for the full list of questions.

Today’s prompt: What’s your favorite book-to-screen adaptation?

Like the “favorite remake” question, this one has a number of ways to approach it. Favorite movie that happens to be an adaptation? Favorite movie AS an adaptation (that is, something about the transition from book to screen is particularly loveable)? The first approach would be way too broad, so I tried to find one that does something interesting with the adaptation itself, which meant I had to have read the book. That knocked off a bunch of possibilities right there. Heh.

For a long while, West Side Story was one of my top five favorite films. It’s not quite that high anymore, but I do still love it a lot, and a good portion of that love is due to the way it takes the story of Romeo and Juliet and plops it into a modern and more relatable milieu. This is, in fact, a thing I like in most any Shakespeare adaptations, and something that’s quite common in stage versions of his shows, albeit they usually keep the language and West Side Story does not. The film version of West Side Story is a double adaptation; directly an adaptation of the 1950s Broadway musical by Leonard Bernstein and Steven Sondheim, which is adapted from Shakespeare’s tragedy. And even though the majority of the adaptation is between Shakespeare and Sondheim, the film has a few changes up its sleeve as well, most notably in the performance of a couple of the songs – the film swaps “Cool” and “Hey Officer Krupke”, which makes a lot more sense in the flow of the story (the ordering in the play is largely due to needing an upbeat song at a particular point for the peculiar pacing purposes of stage productions), and it also has both male and female members of the Sharks performing “America” instead of just female, as it was in the play. I prefer “America” as it is in the play, but swapping the other two songs for the movie as a great choice, and shows that the were really thinking about how this is going to play AS A MOVIE – a key consideration in adaptation that not every filmmaker takes into account as much as they should. Not to mention it looks incredibly cinematic, transcending its roots on the stage.

Both as a movie, then, and as an adaptation, West Side Story hits my sweet spots. Here’s the opening: