Restoring West Side Story for its 50th Anniversary

West Side Story

Classic musical West Side Story will be back on the big screen from 16 September, celebrating its 50th anniversary in an all-new restoration from Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Studios.

Starring Natalie Wood, Russ Tamblyn and George Chakiris, West Side Story went on to win 10 Academy Awards and explores the rivalry between two teenage street gangs – white working class Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks. When a member of the Jets falls in love with the sister of the Sharks’ leader, things look hopeful at first, but rapidly go downhill.

West Side Story was the first of three musicals that acclaimed filmmaker Robert Wise directed in the large format Panavision 70 and Todd-AO processes. It was shot in 65mm for intended theatrical projection in 70mm and six-track stereo sound. A 35mm reduction negative was also produced to allow the film to be shown more widely.

George Chakiris (centre) in West Side Story

George Chakiris (centre) in West Side Story

There have been several attempts at a good restoration in the past, however, due to issues with the 65mm assets, this was problematic in the traditional photochemical environment. For this restoration, a newly created 65mm interpositive was scanned digitally at 4K. This greatly improves the detail and clarity of the image.

The film is made up of many optical effects and this created one of the restorations biggest challenges, particularly in the sequence where Tony and Maria meet for the first time, which has a number of effects. A great deal of time and care was spent on dirt clean-up and color correction in this area.

Following the digital restoration process, the film was then re-graded and colour corrected to match the original grading notes.
The original 70mm aspect ratio for this title was 2.20:1 which has been maintained on the DCP now being used for the 50th anniversary re-release.

The ladies of West Side Story take centre stage

The ladies of West Side Story take centre stage

The audio work on this picture gave the most problems. The original 70mm 6-track audio master from 1961 was believed lost. It was found and sent out to the studio for use in this project. However, following assessment of this long lost element, it was the 4-track stereo master made in 1962 for 35mm magnetic sound prints which was deemed to be the best source, due to the way the audio had been separated in the mix. This was the basis for creating the new 5.1 sound mix.

Finally, the original intermission has been the re-introduced. This was dropped after the films initial 1961 70mm roadshow engagements, but is restored to this new restoration.

This stunning new version of West Side Story will be back in cinemas around the world this Autumn, with full details available soon on www.backincinemas.com.

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