With the resurgence of the film musical, it was only a matter of time before we’d see yet another adaptation of West Side Story. The play — Romeo & Juliet by way of 1950s street gangs — is a Broadway mainstay and has already spawned one highly successful movie. Perhaps nobody thought the new version would be helmed by Steven Spielberg, but the legendary director is reportedly a big fan of the source material; it will be interesting to see his take on the story come December (watch the trailer here).
West Side Story was initially slated for a 2020 release but got rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the very least, the official one-sheet (created by BLT Communications, LLC) has definitely been worth the wait. Just like the previous black-and-white teaser, it manages to define the film’s NYC setting with just a few details: brickwork, clotheslines, a water tower. The protagonist couple is shown in silhouette, enjoying each other’s company on a city rooftop. The overall effect is 50% shadow, 50% graffito, and 100% city grit.
Poster design by BLT Communications, LLC
There is something refreshingly retro about the poster, with its stark contrast, diagonal composition and massive white border. In many ways, the promo is a modernized riff on the iconic key art for the 1961 film, commonly attributed to Saul Bass but actually created by graphic designer Joe Caroff. (Caroff, still alive today at the impressive age of 100, has left quite a mark on the world of movie posters. His minimalist, monochrome approach can be seen in key art for Cabaret, The Last Temptation of Christ and Last Tango in Paris — however, West Side Story remains his most celebrated work.)
Poster illustration by Joe Caroff
Riff or not, the new West Side Story poster opts for the economy of colour and detail. This is unusual for a movie musical: one-sheets for the biggest titles in the genre utilize either vivid colours (La La Land, In The Heights) or the faces of their star-studded casts (Les Miserables). While it’s doubtful that the movie it’s promoting will be an understated affair, the grit and texture of the poster is a subtle, sophisticated approach to film promotion.