West Side Story is returning to the big screen in glorious 70MM at The Wexner Center as part of their ‘Based on the Play by William Shakespeare’ film series. Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer star in this winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Choreography that was elected to National Film Registry in 1997. The two night special engagement begins tonight, Thursday, April 12th and continues tomorrow, Friday, April 13th with both shows beginning at 7:00PM.
Below David Filipi, Director of Film/Video at the Wexner Center for the Arts answered a few questions about West Side Story, 70MM, and the Wexner Center’s commitment to film enthusiasts.
Q: Why show West Side Story now?
A: We’re showing it as part of our “Based on the Play by William Shakespeare [series],” scheduled in conjunction with all of OSU’s ‘The Year of Shakespeare’ activates [revolving] around the university’s relationship with the Royal Shakespeare Company. [The fact] that there was a new 70mm print of West Side Story made it a natural [choice] to include in the series.
Q: What’s so special about West Side Story that helps keep the film relevant to today’s audiences?
A: I’d say the main thing is that it is based on a timeless play – Romeo & Juliet – and stories of young forbidden love & class struggles will always be popular and relevant with each new generation. Plus, the film won 10 Oscars, is a wonderful example of widescreen filmmaking, and is one of the best musicals of its time.
Q: West Side Story was released last year on Blu-ray to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. Aside from supporting the Wexner Center why should someone see West Side Story in 70MM?
A: Wow. Even if we were showing it in 35mm I’d say it’s a much preferable way to see the film than sitting at home watching it on TV in your living room or even watching it in a theater with projected Blu-ray. If we were comparing a new 70mm print and a 4k or 8k digital projection of the film then there might be room for discussion but the image quality between a Blu-ray and a new 70mm print is significant. Add in that one will be sitting in a theater with great sound, a wide screen, and an engaged audience, and the question becomes ‘how can you pass up this opportunity’ and I didn’t even mention Natalie Wood!
Q: Other venues have shown West Side Story with an intermission when presenting the film in 70MM. Will the Wexner Center be showing West Side Story traditionally or treat it more like a ‘Roadshow’ engagement?
A: We’ll be showing the film with the intermission as intended.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the difficulty and rarity of obtaining new 70MM prints.
A: Two things. Some of the studios are making it harder and harder to get any film prints, let alone 70mm prints, as more and more theaters are going all-digital. Also, studios rarely make new 70mm prints as so few venues can screen them. If anything, I think new 70mm prints are being struck during a digital restoration process geared more towards a Blu-ray release or a theatrical release in a digital format. Even before the digital conversion there weren’t that many good 70mm prints available. I think we’ve only screened Lawrence of Arabia, Alien, Vertigo, Playtime, and 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm over the years. There are two titles in particular that I am trying to get their respective studios to let us show but the prints are incredibly expensive and they aren’t letting them out at the moment.
Q: Why does the Wexner Center for the Arts think it’s important to continue exhibiting 70MM films whenever possible?
A: We’re committed to being able to screen motion pictures in all relevant formats from every era in history. Plus, we think its fun! Many of our patrons get a kick out of seeing films in this increasingly rare format. Someone emailed me the other day saying they are coming from Cincinnati just for the screening and wanted to know if they could come up in the booth to see the film. Our kind of guy! When we screened Jacques Tati’s Playtime in 70mm for the first time in 2004 a bus full of film fans made the trip from Cleveland just to see it.
Q: Are there any exciting upcoming 70MM engagements that you can tell us about now?
A: We hope to be announcing at least one 70mm show possibly for the fall or a little later than that. It’s not confirmed at the moment.
For information and to purchase tickets head over to the Wexner Center for the Arts.