Saturday, June 19, 2010

Steven Spielberg's Jaws: More Momentary Appreciation on its 35th Anniversary

June 20th, 2010 marks the 35th anniversary of the release of the movie JAWS. This post is part of Radiation-Scarred Review's 2010 SHARKATHALON, which celebrates this milestone with blog posts around the web.

Again, a collection of in-between moments and lines from Jaws that I find as memorable, effective, and artfully composed as any of the big standout action pieces. Of course, this is only a handful; I could go on and on, believe me.

No dialogue after finding the remains of Chrissie Watkins. Holding the victim's clothes, Brody turns to the sea. What... is out there?, he's thinking. He'll find out soon enough. You can feel Brody's fear and loathing of the sea throughout the movie; Roy Scheider, who had just played tough NYC cops in The French Connection and The Seven-Ups, here sends out palpable waves of nervous energy as a man out of his element and desperately looking out for places to relax. He only gets a few.

"Wanna get drunk and fool around?" "Oh, yeah." Scheider and Lorraine Gary had plenty of good moments together as a truly believable couple. Their first scene together, waking up to a sun-drenched bedroom and Brody's shuffle out the door as he tries to master the New England accent ("They're in the yahd, not too fahr from the cahr"), is a charming and realistic introduction to them. All of it shows that Spielberg's mastery of family life dynamics was present at the very beginning of his career.

"Give us a kiss." "Why?" "Because I need it." Perhaps the most soulful and touching scene in the film. After being confronted by Alex Kintner's grieving mother (another moment with the crystal-clear ring of emotional truth) Brody's exhausted but still takes a couple minutes to interact playfully with his youngest son, Sean, who's been imitating Brody's weary movements. Ellen Brody watches, hoping she can make a connection with her beleaguered husband, but then Matt Hooper unexpectedly knocks at the door. Hooper sits and spies an untouched plate (Brody's presumably), and asks:

"Is anyone eating this?" Just like a starving grad student. Richard Dreyfuss was concerned his character Hooper was simply there to "dispense shark facts" and he, Spielberg, and screenwriter Carl Gottlieb worked hard to not make him the insufferable dilettante he was in the novel.

"Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged women." As portrayed by Robert Shaw, Quint is easily one of the most striking and impressive supporting characters in all of film. His testing of men is never-ending. He doesn't know it yet but Brody and Hooper are more than able to step up. Why, just check out how Hooper makes short work of that Styrofoam cup! This bit was made up by the actors and Gottlieb over coffee one morning before shooting.

And here, the enormous great white glides silent and implacable into the pond. Williams's famous score has just left a second of quiet empty space and then a cut to this, which Spielberg has framed so that we can compare the tiny form of Sean Brody to the shark.

How puny it makes people look, how vulnerable, how oblivious to the dangers just a few yards offshore we can be. This shot also prefigures Quint's how-to on determining the size of a shark: "You tell by looking from the dorsal to the tail." In less than a minute, in an abrupt edit - a brilliant move on the part of editor Verna Fields, who won a well-deserved Oscar for her work - we will get our first glimpse of the monstrous and bloody maw that has haunted my recurring nightmares for over 30 years.

I wouldn't have it any other way.


Carl Manes said...

One missing scene from both posts: the typewriter. How chilling is it when Brody is typing up the report, and Spielberg closes in on the ominous death tolls of the typewriter as he punches in SHARK ATTACK?

Will Errickson said...

That is a great moment too--especially because it's typed up on the "corner's report" instead of "corOner's report." Love those details!