Friday, February 8, 2013
(June 1975, U.S.)
This is it, people! This is the big one! With all due respect to STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES and E.T., this is the greatest summer blockbuster movie of all goddamn time! And it should be noted that it's with a tremendous sense of seasonal irony that I'm writing about this film, a summertime beach thriller, on a day when the entire northest portion of the United States is experiencing a blizzard. Nothing like a little summer movie warmth to combat the February chill in the air!
So, what can I possibly tell you about Steven Spielberg's colossal film that ushered in the new era of summer blockbusters from the moment the great white shark's fin broke through the water that you don't already know?? Shall I tell you that JAWS ushered in a new era of film marketing and wider theatrical releasing? Shall I tell you that in between THE EXORCIST (1973) and STAR WARS (1977), JAWS was the highest grossing film of all time? Shall I tell you that JAWS instilled terrifying fears of going in the water that people may still hold onto today? Shall I tell you that JAWS made Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts more famous than it already was without the Kennedy's? Shall I tell you that the key element of what makes JAWS so damn scary is the mystery and the intruigue of what lurks beneath the water given that we don't see the actual shark for nearly an hour? Well, what's the point of telling you all that? Any fan of JAWS or anyone who only ever heard of JAWS already knows all this. So what I will do, if you'll permit me the time, is share some personal stories with you regarding the film, and perhaps you'll do the same with your comments.
In 1975, at the tender age of only eight years-old, my parents would NOT allow me to see JAWS! Try to imagine what it was like for an eight year-old kid in summer camp and in the third grade the following Fall to feel as if he's the only one who hasn't seen a movie that's clearly become a massive cultural phenomenom! Try to imagine what it's like for this same kid to be surrounded by a bunch of other third graders who are gleefully walking around humming the infamous tones of John Williams' classic theme and he has virtually no idea what they're humming about! Try to imagine extreme movie denial in this young kid's life! How are you supposed to combat something like that? Walking around saying, "Oh, yeah, well I saw BENJI!" ain't exactly going to get the burden off of your shoulders. Hell, it might even get you beat up by other third graders!
(Are you sensing some childhood anger here yet??)
Okay, so now let's cut to four years later, the Summer of 1979, when JAWS is re-released in movie theaters everywhere for a special two week run engagement (Man, how DO I remember these things??). This twelve year-old child (ME!) is teased, enticed and provoked by a re-release movie poster practically begging him into the theater. It looks like this...
If I can get sidetracked for a moment, I must confess that I've always had a particular fondness for re-release movie posters as opposed to original one sheets. In my opinion, re-relase movie posters signify a film's popularity and legacy that's already been achieved with popular culture and serves as an artistic tool to invite the moviegoer back for more. Those of us who can remember a time before video tapes and DVDs will remember just how significant it was when your favorite movie was re-released in theaters.
Okay, back to where I was. So now I'm four years older now (not necessarily wiser!) and do my parents budge on the issue?? NO! These over-protective sons-of...(whatever!) still won't allow their son to see JAWS! WTF??? No, my friends, it would not be until several months later, November 1979, when JAWS made it's world television premiere on the ABC Sunday Night Movie that I finally got to see the legendary Spielberg masterpiece, all cut-up and edited to keep mommy and daddy's precious little prince safe and cozy! It wasn't until 1984, when the family finally got its first VCR, complete with fake wood finish and pop-up tape insert, that I would go out to the video store and rent my first uncut, commerical-free movie. Yes, it was JAWS and I was finally able to break my virginity on the matter.
Quite a saga, isn't it? How's THAT for being born under a bad movie sign??
As an adult, JAWS remains one of my top ten favorite films of all time. And why not? It's a film that takes place on the beach, I grew up at the beach in the Hamptons every summer, and what defines summer better than the beach? I've seen JAWS more times than can be counted and I make it a point to watch it every July 4th in the same manner of movie tradition that one would watch A CHRISTMAS CAROL or IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE on Christmas Eve. To this day, I DO go swimming in the ocean every summer without fear of becoming the great fish's next feeding. To this day, I still regret not being able to get to Martha's Vineyard during the Summer of 2005 when JAWS was celebrating it's 30th anniversary there, complete with celebreties, tributes and multiple film screenings. Oh, what a celebration it must have been!
Here's a couple of two more quick stories (grammar?) to share with you about this film. In 1997, I had the one and only opportunity to see JAWS on the big screen at a special one-night-only screening at New York City's famous Radio City Music Hall (they don't show movies there anymore, but let me tell you, this is a BIG fucking screen!). I was on a second or third date with some girl (what WAS her name??) and when it came to the climactic moment of the film when Quint is killed, she felt grossed out and decided to leave her seat and retreat to the theater lobby. So there I was with a big choice to make; either stay in my seat and fullfill my one and only time to see this great film in its entirety on screen without interruption OR play the bullshit chivalrous gentleman and go after her. Hmmmmmm...what to do? Well, I'm sorry to say I opted for the great white shark. It's okay. I figured out pretty early in our dating rituals that I wasn't going to get very far with her, so hey, no great loss. The second story really involves my mother in-law and HER story of how JAWS was the last film she'd been to see in September 1975 just weeks (or days?) before her daughter (my wife) was born. Just for the fun and humor of it, whenever I bring up that story I enjoy grossly distorting the facts in that I tell it as if she actually went into labor in the movie theater while watching JAWS. It's just more fun that way (ha, ha!).
And so, having said all that, it's with the greatest sincerity and admiration that I say THANK YOU! Thank you Roy Scheider, thank you Richard Dreyfuss, thank you Robert Shaw, thank you Murray Hamilton, thank you Lorraine Gary and thank you John Williams! But most of all and most importantly, thank you Peter Benchley and Steven Speilberg for giving us the timeless and classic masterpiece of great cinema known as JAWS!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Larry Vaughan: "I don't think either one of you are familiar with our problems!"
Matt Hooper: "Uh, I think that I am familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you on the ass! Now wait a second, wait a second! There are two ways to deal with this problem! You're either going to kill this animal or you're going to cut off its food supply!"
Martin Brody: "Larry, we have to close the beaches!"
Larry (pointing to defaced billboard): "Brody, sick vandalism! That is a deliberate mutilation of a public service message! Now I want those little paint-happy bastards caught and hung up by their Buster Browns!"
Matt: "That's it. G'bye! I'm not gonna waste my time arguing with a man who's lining up to be a hot lunch! I'm gonna see you later."
Martin: "Come on now, please, don't do this."
Matt: "Mr. Vaughan, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, uh, an eating machine. It's really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks and that's all. Now why don't you take a long, close look at this sign. Those proportions are correct."
Larry: "Love to prove that, wouldn't you? Get your name into the National Geographic."