Today marks the 40th anniversary of “Jaws.” Directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Carl Gottlieb and Peter Benchley, and starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss. The film changed the course of Hollywood…and it changed the course of my life. Note the name of the blog. In honor of its big anniversary, part one of my 40 favorite moments from “Jaws.”
1.) Duuh dunnn…duuuuh duun…
“All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks.” What better way to characterize something so simple than with two notes? Once John Williams’s theme gets going, it does indeed sound like an engine. A big, unstoppable engine…with teeth.
2.) Peeping shark
Suspense builds as we watch an unsuspecting menu item, her feet dangling beneath the surface.
3.) The first bite is the deepest
The minimalist approach here was the way to go. There isn’t so much as a shadow or flick of a fin. Just violent jerking motions. Primal and visceral.
4.) Meeting Martin Brody
Martin: “How come the sun didn’t used to shine in here?”
Ellen: “We bought the house in the fall. This is summer.”
Ellen: “In Amity you say ‘yahd’.”
Martin: “[The kids] are in the yahd, not too fahr from the cahr. How’s that?”
Ellen: “Like you’re from New York.”
In a few quick lines, we learn so much about the Brody family and Martin in particular.
5.) The ferry long take
The mayor corners the chief for a meeting about tourist season. There’s minimal camera movement, but since we’re on a ferry, the background is spinning and Spielberg keeps the actors moving such that we don’t notice the long take. It’s a dynamic way to deliver exposition.
6.) Brody’s POV
Spielberg places us in the shoes of the paranoid chief as he watches bathers from his chair. Beach-goers walk in front of the camera — they wipe off Brody and wipe on what he’s looking at. Someone will be talking to the chief, their face wedged into the corner of the frame and an expanse of ocean over their shoulder, letting us know what’s really on our his mind.
7.) Let’s [not] paint the town red!
Red is used so sparingly in the film that when it does appear, it pops off the screen.
8.) There’s chaos in the air
“We have to talk to Mrs. Kintner, because this is going to turn into a contest.”
“I have a motel! How do you feel about this?”
“Go out there tomorrow and see that no one gets hurt!”
Overlapping dialog during the town meeting accomplishes so much more than a traditional, staged approach. It adds texture and makes Amity feel lived in.
9.) There ARE strings on me.
Brody, on the left side of the frame, talks about keeping the beaches safe. He has no lead room — no vision or conviction. Behind him, the mayor and his cronies watch their puppet dance. A whole story in one shot.
10.) Quint’s intro
Nails on a chalkboard rake across a shark that’s devouring a swimmer. And so we meet the film’s most indelible character. Quint’s entrance encompasses all the bluster that he’ll come to embody. And yet his line, “There’s too many captains on this island,” cuts right to the heart of the problem. Bureaucracy and commercial interests have indeed run amok on the island.
11.) Brody’s studies
Brody glances through a series of photographs depicting real-life shark attacks. Reflected in his glasses, the horror on the book pages consume his vision.
12.) Fickle fin
Martin: “I don’t want him on the ocean!”
Ellen: “He’s not on the ocean, he’s in a boat!”
Ellen: “Michael! Did you hear your father? Out of the water now. Now!”
13.) Attack of the Pier!
After a bounty is placed on the shark, two fishermen attempt to catch it. When the fish takes the bait chained to a pier, half the pier goes with it and one of the men gets dragged out to sea. In one of my favorite gags, the pier turns around and follows him. Shark-by-proxy, far spookier than actually seeing the creature.
14.) Brody and his son
Few and far between are the blockbusters that would make room for a scene like this. Having been blamed for the death of Alex Kintner, the chief finds himself goofing off with his son. The young boy mimics his father, and Martin plays along. It aligns us firmly with our hero.
15.) Ellen & Hooper
Ellen laughs just a little too hard and a little too long at some of Hooper’s jokes. It’s a nice bit of characterization and a nice nod to Peter Benchley’s novel, which contained a subplot about an affair between the two.
Ellen: “Martin sits in his car when we go on the ferry to the main land. I guess it’s a childhood thing. There’s a clinical name for it, isn’t there?”
You’ve got to love Schieder’s off-handed delivery. In a lesser film, Martin Brody would have been too broadly comic or just a wet blanket. But Spielberg and Scheider strike the right balance.
While we ponder Hooper’s discovery of a tooth the size of a shot glass — Bam! — a pale and bloated corpse floats out to greet him. Like a magician, Spielberg draws our gaze away before the trick.
18.) Water-level camera
One of the visual strategies Spielberg employs is a water-level camera. This usually involves water lapping over the lens and swimmers in the background. It amps up the tension as it feels like we, the audience, are treading shark-infested water.
19.) “Michael’s in the pond!”
After a false alarm on July 4th, a woman spots the shark. “There’s a shark in the pond!” The camera tracks with Brody in profile as he makes his way through a crowd, faster and faster until the beach goers are blurs around him. It’s a great means of visualizing the chief’s rising panic as his son happens to be playing in the pond.
20.) Mayor of Shark City
“I was acting in the town’s best interest.” Murray Hamilton says this to himself as much as Brody, as though he was already practicing for the media gauntlet. By the end of the scene, he’s just a broken man: “Martin, my kids were on that beach too.” It’s a glimmer of humanity in a character that’s otherwise pretty sleazy.
Tune in tomorrow for the second and final installment in “My 40 Favorite Moments from ‘Jaws’.” Also tomorrow, Fathom Events will also be screening the film throughout the country. If you’ve never seen “Jaws” on a big screen with a large audience, it’s a real treat! Click here for location and ticket details.