Matt Zoller Seitz recently published an excellent article about watching “Aliens” with his 11-year old son and a handful of his fifth grade friends. He wrote, “I realized…that while unfortunately you can’t see a great movie again for the first time, the next best thing is to show it to people who’ve never seen it.” Which is a sentiment I’ve always found to be true. Watch a comedy you enjoy with someone who’s never seen it, and you’ll find yourself laughing harder. Watch one of your favorite horror films with someone who’s never seen it, and you you’ll find your palms sweating. In honor of Seitz’s writeup, I thought I’d share my experience showing “Jaws” to my college roommate.
Indeed, my freshman year roommate — and we would remain roomies throughout college — had never seen “Jaws.” I felt determined and obligated to remedy this as quickly as possible. He was a good sport, but he went into the experience with notions of what he thought the film would be. Though he didn’t say anything beforehand, I could read it on him. “Oh yeah, ‘Jaws?’ I’ve heard about the robotic shark.” Or “I’ve seen other movies from this period, and I didn’t like them very much.” Or “Horror movies have changed so much since the 70s. Scary? Yeah, we’ll see.”
One early autumn evening, we had three or four friends over to watch the film. The viewing circumstances were less than ideal. We were all stuffed into a small dorm room. It was stinkin’ hot in upstate New York, and our door was open for circulation. I still remember intoxicated voices bouncing around the hall outside as students were enjoying their weekend. The television set was in the neighborhood of 15 inches, and it was wedged between the ceiling and the top of some large cabinets. (They’re called “closets” in some circles.)
There was idle chit-chat among our friends over the opening credits. I grimaced, not wanting to be a killjoy but also trying to maintain some semblance of a proper presentation. With that first tug on poor Chrissie Watkins’s leg, things started to quiet down. As she was ripped through the water by an unseen menace, the chatter completely turned to silence.
Cut to 15 minutes later, Chief Brody sits on the beach with his family. He anxiously watches bathers enter and exit the water, believing a shark was responsible for the young woman’s death. A couple townsfolk strike up a conversation with him, but his eyes are fixed on the expanse of ocean. The Chief explodes out of his chair at the sound of a young woman’s screams, only to discover that her boyfriend has surfaced beneath her. He leans forward as a shape approaches a woman floating on her back. It’s just a swimmer. Little Alex Kitner enters the water and paddles out on his raft. I watched with anticipation as John Williams’s menacing score started to thump and Spielberg’s roving camera — the shark’s POV — approached the boy from below. The raft is overturned, and there’s a geyser of blood as Alex is taken under.
My roommate screamed: “Oh God! OH MY GOD!”
Movie viewings are rarely this gratifying.
As the full gravity of the community’s situation sets in, marine biologist Matt Hooper investigates a boat that was struck by the shark. A moody night-time scene: lights from Hooper’s vessel filter through the inky water. Eerie music indicates that danger could strike at any moment. And then, my phone went off. I can’t for the life of me remember why I didn’t have it on vibrate. As it rang out, one of our friends piped up, “Well, that ruined the mood!” Without bringing the phone to my ear, I spoke into the receiver: “Hold on.” As Hooper approaches a hole in the hull of the boat, the craft’s former owner, dead, floats into frame to greet him. Screams erupted all around me as I walked to the hallway to take the call.
Afterward, my roommate would admit that he thought the film would be a victim of its times. The next day, he posted a picture of the “Jaws” DVD online and simply stated: Best. Movie. Ever.
Do you have a memory of sharing a favorite film with a friend? Comment below!