"Smile, you son of a bi..." – Jaws, 1975
What do all DVD Outsiders know about Jaws? Oh, it's a long, long, over-quoted list but here are six of the best.
Jaws initiated the 'blockbuster' and Hollywood would never be the same (more's the pity given what 70s American cinema was blossoming into).
Jaws was the first movie to break the $100 million box office barrier.
were three full size model sharks (in 1974/5 there was
no such word as 'animatronic'...) and all of them were
named Bruce after Spielberg's attorney, Bruce Ramer. This
is why you have a fearsome great white in Finding
Nemo named Bruce. Nemo's Australian
location makes the name doubly fitting.
is universally agreed that Roy Scheider improvised the
line "We're gonna need a bigger boat," but no
one seems to know exactly who wrote the Indianapolis speech
(though the best case comes from Carl Gottleib's end notes
in his updated and entertaining account of the making
of the film, The Jaws Log).
Ben Gardner 'head out of the hole' was re-shot in the
film editor's swimming pool, clouded with milk and paid
for by Spielberg personally though Universal eventually
absorbed the costs. How kind.
Jaws was a long and damned difficult shoot. The principal star
needed a bigger entourage than Jennifer Lopez and even
then hardly ever worked.
are the oft quoted Jaws 'well known facts'
(feck, next year will be its thirtieth anniversary) and on
the pretty comprehensive DVD there are many much juicier nuggets
to be unearthed. It's true that a director's commentary on
a Spielberg movie is more rare than nuance in a Simpson/Bruckheimer
flick but I have a theory. I think Spielberg (by stating "I
don't need to speak for the movie as the movie speaks for
itself,") is carving out a specialist niche for his DVD
output. He is creating a formal DVD identity by NOT providing
a director's commentary. It marks his DVDs from 'the rest'.
I'm sure that that stance is valid regarding works like Schindler's
List (how do you crack funny about the Holocaust?
"Hey, see this scene when he can't shoot the metal worker
because his gun's jammed? Ralph had diarrhoea that morning...
How we chortled." OK, an argument exists there but what
about technical contributions? Steven, let some of your crew
have a go.). But to wax lyrical about Jaws?
I'd have thought that would have been a supreme pleasure.
It will be for me.
what else is there to say about this glorious movie that hasn't
been said before? From my point of view, quite a bit.
Jaws is locked and loaded into my past like no other film. Versions
of it sit on my shelves in several incarnations; battered,
old VHSs - recorded off air in pan and scan, dubbed tapes
from early postal-hire masters, pre-recorded in horribly limiting
boxy 4:3 and several letterbox pre-recorded. For good measure,
there's also a 20th anniversary 3 laserdisc box set (from
which the Region 1 and 2 DVD have clearly simply pick pocketed),
and rounding off the manifestations of all things Jawsian,
a model of the good ship Orca in her death throes with Quint,
blood and all, being swallowed by Bruce. I have the original
1975 UK poster somewhere...
extraordinary music (get past the 'Dun-dun, dun-duns if you
please and go into what is a breathtaking adventure score
- see side notes) was the very first L.P. of film
music I ever bought. OK, some may be reading and shaking their
heads; "What's an L.P.?" Learn some history. The
score to Jaws was a revelation to me. Here
was music that was emotive, exciting, rousing and just...
just perfect. There is a strings bit (this is why I'm learning
music. I don't want to use words like 'strings bit' anymore)
that makes me almost giddy (track 7, One Barrel Chase,
about 2 minutes 15 seconds in and get this, it's not even
in the movie). I could admire this score despite the inevitable
school peer ridicule. While my class-mates were all pretending
to like what was cool at the time, I celebrated a balding,
black polo-necked, bearded composer who'd worked out that
the notes E and F repeated ominously was the perfect signature
to the best thriller of the 70s. There was a lot more to Williams'
Oscar(tm) winning efforts than "Dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun,
dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun, DUN dun-dun-dun DUN dun-dun-dun..."
despite its subsequent rapid osmosis into the culture.
Jaws is also a permanent squatter in my movie-infested brain, a
brain that regularly sweeps out older images and dialogue
from less brain-attic worthy movies. Jaws resists the broom. All this film does is swim (in my head),
eat (my memory) and make little marks. For such a popular
movie, is there any need for another review? Call this an
historical appreciation seen from a particularly personal
perspective (see Slarek's Star
Wars piece to get the flavour of this
Norman said on Film '75 late that same year that
Steven Spielberg was twenty-seven years old and will never
have to work again, "...damn him." I was fourteen
and eyes-wide struck by the "damn him." Why (thought
the innocent mind of a fourteen year old) would a man be damned
for making a movie? And then he played a clip - the first
sighting of the beast by the threesome. "It's a twenty
footer..." "Twenty five. Three tons of him."
Oh and those glorious black lines, the 'letterbox' showing
TV that by getting smaller 'the movies' can promise much bigger
things. The music picked me up, enthused me beyond measure
and made me want to devour this movie whole. My school friend's
parents at the time, the Thorneycrofts, had tickets for an
early sneak preview just because they owned a book-shop. Bastards!
I considered a double murder but figured my friend Neil would
the slightly nervous fourteen-year old, on Boxing day 1975,
queues up for the ABC Cardiff's first showing of Jaws.
Two things came to mind before I got into the auditorium.
The first - it had an 'A' certificate. What? Thorneycroft
had told me - out of context - about a gory bit at the end.
How could it have got an 'A'? 'AA' more like (I mean I was
fourteen). If 'A' and 'AA' are causing you confusion, as I
said before, learn your history. Can't be bothered? 'A' meant
'the movie was fit for everyone but a bit meatier than a kid's
flick'. 'AA' meant you had to be (or appear to be) fourteen
to get in. On the poster there was a boxed addition to the
credits and I believe Jaws was the first
movie with such a proviso; "This film may be too intense
for younger children" or words to that effect. Jesus.
I was fourteen. To hell with 'younger children'! Nevertheless,
I stepped inside feeling like I'd just entered the Roman Coliseum
with "Eat Me" daubed in red paint on my chest. No
question, I was nervous.
was in the days of 'the cinema', singular. There was no such
word as 'multiplex'. I entered the cavernous auditorium. I
was placed in the furthest back left aisle seat. Why? Because
this first performance of Jaws was a sell
out (naturally) and my favoured seats were not available.
No, you were herded into place for Jaws.
I felt sort of grateful that the screen would not be overwhelming
me as well it might for those sitting ten rows from the front.
That day, I wanted my visceral horror once removed. I remembered
a screening of Polanski's Macbeth and my
being two rows from the front. It was an 'educational' screening.
Yeah. I could cover my eyes but there were still severed heads
in the periphery of my vision. JAWS would be nicely contained.
what was this? A health worker?
uniformed man worked the aisles but he wasn't selling ice
cream or ushering the hordes into their seats. No. This guy
had a sash. What did it say? St. John's Ambulance Brigade?
St. John's? Ambulance? Was he kidding? No, apparently. Why?
This is what he told me; "We've had faintings and vomiting
in London so we thought we'd be more prepared if we were at
the scene of the crime so to speak..." I buried my head
in the promotional magazine - no sign of the monstrous leviathan
promised by the poster but there was some blood coming out
of someone's mouth with a huge fin behind him. I started a
mantra; "Don't be sick, don't be sick..." I was
scared now. Nervous had taken a holiday.
ba-ba, ba-ba, ba-ba, ba-ba-ba," went the screen and Pearl
and Dean was at once overtly reassuring. What I would see
here in a few moments was simply a long strip of coloured
plastic and it wouldn't be this mindless creature that could
do me harm. Horror in cinema is cathartic. Oh, how I held
on to that before Jaws started.
Then Jaws started.
know I may be wandering into the melodramatic but you really
do remember your first...
was the first." Said the poster. We believed it. "Oh
God please help..." was Susan Backlinie's final line.
After God failed to help her (typical), she was pulled under
the water by what must have been a team of stunt men and wire
workers. But I didn't see the stunt men and wire workers.
I just imagined a monster. They had the balls to put the creature
on the poster. No flirtations with 'suggestion'. It was like
Izzard's riff on Australian advertising; "Shark, big
bastard. There. Right there." That design would never
be done today, too obvious, too unsubtle. Well, screw that.
It worked so well it hasn't changed from the original book
cover in 29 years. I'd credit the original artist but my 1976
22nd reprinted copy of the novel gives no credit.
shook. My hand was shaking. I was fourteen and vodka was way
off in the future. I believe that the whole fecking audience
was shaking. There was a buzz in the cinema that you could
really feel. People bonded, friendships were forged. Promises
kept. This was a thrill as thrilling as thrilling gets and
we were merely five minutes in... As Brody gets up in silhouette
the next morning, I remember a cloud of nervously exhaled
cigarette smoke ascend to the ceiling, one side of the auditorium
only. Those were the days. People were savouring a group experience
even if it was the terror imagining what that fish had done
to that girl.
I knew that Chief Brody would find her remains and I got nervous
again. I didn't want to see the remains of the attack that
I had just witnessed. But then, of course I did and was bowing
before Spielberg for making that a relatively easy image to
you know the lines that resonated from that 1975 viewing,
the lines that stayed with me? If any of you reading are real Jaws fans, you may recognise the following:
Polly do the printing."
the little guy with the crew cut."
us a kiss." "Why?" "Because I need
might wanna let that breathe... Never mind."
Those lines - those memories - are character memories.
They are lines that prove to me time and time again that Jaws's
principal strength was in character. Heaven knows it wasn't
the special effects. Brody, the sea-fearing, guilty policeman
whose inactions had inadvertently caused the death of a young
boy; Hooper, the ichthyologist (try spelling that while you're
drunk... Hey, I just did) who's a rich kid and a shark fan
just trying to be in awe of what nature throws up once in
a while; Quint, the shark-hating hunter whose war-time experience
has entitled him to kill as many sharks as he can. Three characters
drawn with such devoted conviction... These three men made Jaws what it was.
really cared who lived or died. The fish was the fish and
we'll come to Bruce in a paragraph or so but when, while watching Jaws did you ever question the goals of the
men sent to kill the shark? You knew each of the men's reasons
for being there and therefore you knew why it was important
to each of them. Therefore it was important to us. All this
singular character acting was born from malfunctioning animatronics.
The truth in the performances has been credited to many things
but I believe that the time spent together in frustration
at Bruce's 'will he work/won't he work?' topsy turvying graced
the actors with an unheard of rehearsal period, time to get
under the character's skins. They knew their roles as they
wanted the shark dead. Quint wanted it dead to atone for its
war-time brethren's past sins. Hooper didn't want it dead
but before that accepted inevitability, he wanted to document
it, to photograph it, to prove this extraordinary being's
existence. Each actor (in masterful performances) imbued their
characters with such resonance that it was impossible for
an audience member not to feel involved. Not on that Boxing
day in 1975. I felt I was at the birth of a "We Were
There" society, such was the power of that first viewing.
I almost had badges made up.
Jaws won three Oscars; music, sound and editing. The latter could
not have been in any doubt if there were real movie Gods smiling
down on Martha's Vineyard. Verna Fields, affectionately known
as 'Mother-Cutter', was a legend. Spielberg was blessed with
her presence on Jaws. She had cut Spielberg's
directorial debut, Sugarland Express sharing
the credit with Edward Abroms. If Spielberg was the Saturn
V rocket of movie making then his launch gantry was this extraordinary
woman who cut JAWS. She pared that fish movie down to its
bones. There is not one wrong editorial move in the entire
picture. There are the glaring continuity gaffs of sea colour
(who cares?) and a startling line cross (Chrissie runs to
the beach to the right of frame. Her new boyfriend tumbles
on to the beach that is now on the left where it remains for
the rest of the sequence). But editing is effective story-telling
and JAWS is streamlined like no other movie. I've seen racing
cars more sluggish than this film.
a trivial aside, one of Verna Field's nicest transitions is
ruined by the limitations of dual layered DVD technology.
We are all familiar with the pause triggered by the layer
change. What I didn't know until scrutinising my Region 1
copy was that you also lost frames. The scene is at the Brody's
dinner table. The line preceding the layer change is Brody's;
"I'm the chief of police. I can do anything." He
then lifts his glass and in the movie the light reflects off
the bottom of the tumbler linking to the next cut of about
12 frames of a torch light shining into camera which then
swiftly cuts to the glint off a knife held by Hooper. Guess
what? The frames of light reflection from the bottom of the
tumbler are not there on the DVD. This is annoying as it's
such a masterful transition.
his career, Spielberg seems to have been very editorially
monogamous. He began working with Michael Kahn in 1977 and
he's still his editor of choice. So where was Verna on Close
Encounters? You don't make a movie and then dismiss
your past colleagues who won Oscars(tm) for your next. Or
do you? There are two opinions floating around. The first
puts Verna as an executive at Universal, therefore out of
the hands-on editing business. A more mean spirited theory
suggests that many in the industry believed Verna Fields 'saved' Jaws. Spielberg did an amazing job so it
must be a little galling to hear scuttlebutt that his own
butt had been saved by 'the editor'. I mean Spielberg wasn't
even nominated. Yes. Read that again. Not even nominated.
The relationship between editor and director is a vital one
(I know, I've been both and sometimes simultaneously) so to
go on to another film with the tiniest inkling of resentment
towards one of your principal collaborators would have been
foolish. Spielberg is a lot of things. Foolish ain't one of
them. Cut 'Mother-Cutter'. She died in 1982 and was justly
honoured by her peers.
how does a movie like Jaws work so well when
its star hardly worked at all? Let's be brutally frank. Bruce
was not convincing. No great white shark has an overlapping
hinge on its jaw. No great white shark can swim backwards.
No great white shark has 'see through' gills. No great white
shark looks as open-mouthed phoney as Bruce. I mean, Joe Alves'
and Bob Mattey's shark was not convincing as a real shark
by any standards. But all credit to the pair of them. Bruce
was 'enough' of a great white.
cut to Ron and Valerie Taylor's real great whites during the
climax of Jaws and apart from the question
"Where are all the barrels on its back?", you notice
immediately the streamlined nature of the real thing. There
is simply no comparison. Even Spielberg nicknamed the already
nicknamed Bruce, 'the great white turd...'
we care? Did we give one tuppence ha'penny?
Bruce was a movie monster and behaved as a movie monster should
behave. It ate children and dogs, menaced the principals and
even swallowed one whole in front of us. We knew it was phoney but when it launched itself at Chief Brody,
we had a collective heart attack. We knew it was
phoney but we cheered when it blew up. Oh, how we cheered.
I came out of the ABC cinema on Boxing Day 1975 believing
I had just witnessed probably the most perfect cinema experience
of my life. I had wringed dry every emotion the film was made
to wring. I had been suitably scared shitless. I had laughed
nervously. The entire audience became friends for the next
ten minutes having been through such a harrowing experience
en masse. I bowed before the God Spielberg. I never went near
the water for years...
Club director David Fincher said he liked movies
that damaged you. Jaws damaged a lot of people
and I for one am immensely glad about that.