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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

JER'S TURN: JAWS- THE FILM AND THE IMPACT


JER: The summer of 1975… the thought brings me back to when I was a mere seven year old boy falling deeply in love with the movies and who viewed the world through innocent and naive eyes. Amongst the many that were released that summer, the more memorable were titles like ROLLERBALL starring James Caan, Barbra Streisand’s FUNNY LADY, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, Walt Disney’s THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG with Bill Bixby, Don Knotts and Tim Conway, NASHVILLE (a JOHNNY CHAZZ favorite) and the long awaited FRENCH CONNECTION II with Gene Hackman. In the mix of the famous and not- so- famous of the films being released and anticipating release, one film did ‘emerge’ from the depths of a young director’s vision that would change film- watching and film- making all together. The date was June 20th, 1975 and the phrase ‘blockbuster’ was coined from the display of box office dollars generated from a single film that had not been seen previously: It began with Steven Spielberg’s JAWS.

Fast- forward to the summer of 2012, or 37 years later, with yet another wave of excitement that is making its way back into the hearts (and fears) of film fans alike as JAWS is preparing to be released on blu- ray for the first time ever! Serious collectors and first-timers are bogging the internet with talks and conversations of high anticipation as the date draws nearer.

It is no secret that many have heard of the various plights JAWS was cursed with… some would even go as far as to down-play the film as ‘corny’ or ‘boring’ by today’s standards. Who could be afraid of a rubber shark in a world of computer- animation and high- tech graphics or be submitted to suspend reality for the briefest of moments to believe such nonsense? At the same token, how can one argue with the fact that JAWS has remained on the top of many prestigious film lists as ‘best’ in its categories and the respect it has garnered from fellow filmmakers alike?
The blu- ray trailer for JAWS (in HD)


In this posting, CINEMA: COUTNERPOINT would like to recall one of the greatest summer films of all time as well as the one film that may have created the phrase "blockbuster" and the many layers of enjoyment it has provided. So, grab your tanning oil and your beach blankets and let’s dive right into the world of JAWS.

ORGINS:
Benchley makes an appearance as a Reporter in JAWS
JAWS began in the imaginative mind of author Peter Benchley when his novel was published in 1973. Benchley was inspired by a number of true- life shark incidents including a string of attacks that occurred in New Jersey back in 1916. The results led to four deaths and occurred over a period of twelve days. After writing his book, film producers Richard D Zanuck and David Brown (DRIVING MISS DAISY, THE SOUND OF MUSIC) were able to obtain an unpublished copy for their reading. An offer was made by the duo for the film rights and Universal Studios was signed on to release the film. As the film grew closer to a production point, Benchley was asked to co- write the screenplay... he even makes an appearance in the film as a news reporter during the 4th of July festivities. The question now needing to be answered was who would direct the project? Many names were immediately brought forth, but the team of Zanuck & Brown was looking for someone who could visually tell the story and capture the spirit of the novel and what Benchley was trying to convey in character and events. Yes, who indeed…

28 year old director Steven Spielberg
A very young 28 year old Steven Spielberg was already a contracted director for Universal who was quickly creating a name and reputation for himself. Aside from being one of the youngest on the lot, he had already had the honor of directing various top- A actors on television shows that included the likes of Joan Crawford (NIGHT GALLERY) and Peter Falk (COLUMBO). A made- for television film starring Dennis Weaver called DUEL was released in 1971 on NBC and received rave reviews and ratings. His feature length film was made with 3 million dollars and starred a very dramatic Goldie Hawn in THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974) which also received great critique and grossed over 12 million dollars worldwide. The film was produced by the team of Zanuck & Brown.

Having had a wonderful experience working with the new kid on the lot and proving himself ready to go to the next level, Zanuck & Brown decided to give Spielberg the project to direct. Everyone, including, Spielberg, knew the risks involved from the anticipation levels expected by the fans of the novel, since it remained the number one best seller for 44 weeks!

After selecting the quiet seaport town of Martha’s Vineyard as the perfect location for the fictitious town of Amity Island, Spielberg could now focus his attentions on selecting the three main actors to flesh- out the leads of the story. The perfect combination of Roy Scheider as Chief Martin Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper and the ‘seadog’ portrayal of Quint by veteran actor Robert Shaw was finally drawn out from many other considerations which included Charlton Heston (Brody), Lee Marvin (Quint), Robert Duvall (Brody), Jeff Bridges (Hooper) and Jon Voight (Hooper). Peter Benchley’s dream cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Steve McQueen!

Composer John Williams: circa 1975
 JOHN WILLIAMS- JAWS’ HEARTBEAT:
Undoubtedly, the soundtrack to JAWS is synonymous to the film and is easily one of the most recognizable pieces of contemporary classic music over the years. Composer John Williams had already begun what would be his longtime musical relationship with Spielberg by scoring THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS and JAWS would now mark their second collaboration. Williams was proving himself to be a successful and respected composer with scores like FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1971), THE POSEIDEN ADVENTURE (1972), THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) and EARTHQUAKE (1974) already adding to his credits. The most distinguished of the JAWS score is its theme. Probably one of the most satirized pieces as well; the theme consists of the memorable low notes provided by tubas and strings. Many wonderful themes are sprinkled throughout JAWS in various points of the film: some are to highlight the anticipation of suspense and others play with Amity’s beachfront scenery as the backdrop.
The theme from JAWS video with stills from the film


Cinematographer Bill Butler on the set of JAWS
A REVIEW- THE FILM:
This is a film that made an impressionable impact on a seven year old who wanted to go to the movies to see a film about a shark…and that was exactly what I got! Even at my age, the distinct sounds of Williams’ soundtrack making an appearance before we get the first shot of the ocean’s floor caused an entire theater to react with excitement. Director of Photography Bill Butler ingeniously used the camera as the shark’s point of view. Rumor has it that Spielberg was so frustrated with the huge percentage of the mechanical shark’s breakdowns, that he was succumbed to use the camera as the shark since the other one is inoperable! Nonetheless, the technique proved to be unique and effective as we were taken on a ride to see what its next victim would be.

Shaw, Scheider and Dreyfuss from JAWS
The arguable question has always been a counterpoint of theme to what JAWS is defined as: is it a horror film or not? An “eating machine” works as the protagonist of the film with one job to perform…eat human flesh. The other side of the spectrum resorts in its rating of PG with a clause appearing on its theatrical posters stating “may be too intense for small children.” The carnage in question is inserted at various moments throughout the film as dramatic moments are given equal time to help developing the personalities of the town’s inhabitants and the main characters. This is another point that makes this film stand out and carry a stamp of its generation. Time is actually spent developing characters and storylines instead of focusing on a total body count with an unlimited array of victims available for feeding and bloodletting. Would one automatically assume because of tension, blood and a shark thrown into a story or film that it could default to it being defined as ‘horror?’ I wouldn’t. Maybe at seven years old, the only vivid memories would be of the shark attacks and it would have definitely been defined as a horror film, but I see it very differently today.

JAWS, in this critic’s opinion, has always been a story of men and struggle…a claiming of grounds. Man versus beast, if you would, over territory. The territory, in the film, is Amity and its waters. A peaceful town that is brought up early on in the film when Brody makes it into the office that fateful morning in which his duties as a lawman is to deal with kids karate- chopping neighbor’s picket fences! How does a quiet little town deal with a bully or a menace? The shark is also a threat to the community… not only because of the fatal effects one would suffer if swimming near it, but also the economic expectancy of summer (more specifically, 4th of July) dollars that the town needs to keep afloat. The town has to get together to try to resolve the problem (claiming their ground) and the solution arises in…the form of one man, Quint. Such similar stories have been told many times before but with different scenarios. The struggle of man and his surroundings is a tale as old as time and makes it more relatable because of our own personal experiences.

"Bruce" the shark and Steven Spielberg
Sadly, there are now at least two generations that never have or never will have experienced JAWS in an actual theater. In 1975’s presentation at my local movie house, the lights dimmed and the film immediately began! No trailers, no commercials, no cartoons, and no concession announcements…just straight to what you paid your price of admission for! There was a quiet hush that went over the entire auditorium yet there was a wave of whispered enthusiasm that made people strap in for the ride they paid to see.

In conclusion, JAWS still remains a very powerful and impactful film for me 37 years later. It works on so many levels: terror, biting humor, action, drama, suspense and tension. If one can look past the “rubber shark” theory, you find a fantastic and ageless storyline that speaks to each of us based on our own personal attitudes or emotional histories. I, for one, find myself waiting in high expectation for the August 14th release date for the blu- ray having once owned the VHS tape and the DVD. If you have not experienced blu- ray and are either curious or intrigued by the comparisons, I was able to provide an example for your viewing pleasure.

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Right off, we must realize that the text (the novel) provides us with a storyline and characters that are much deeper than the film can offer. Still, doing justice to the film, novels are a longer "read" than films are as a "watch". Nonetheless, a sacrifice is almost always made when you take a novel and put it on screen - and so much of the creativity, characterization and imagination is lost ("The Da Vinci Code" would serve as a prime example).

The film won three (3) Ocscars and was probably deserving of that. Still, this was a year that provided us with the likes of "Dog Day Afternoon", "Barry Lyndon", "Nashville", "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest", and Michelangelo Antonioni's "The Passenger" which was arguably the best film of that year.

Spielberg's work here almost reminds us of a "Hitchcock-like" film in the way it is filmed and shot. A quiet town is used and the characters are slightly flawed which adds to the hostility and rage. The characters are limited with plenty of extras in the background.The suspense is real - but timed beautifully and is never overwhelming. Even the play of tension between the three main characters in the film create a mood in a limited space which is drama to a "T". Robert Shaw undoubtably offers the most riveting and convincing performance in the movie.

Jer asked our readers if this was a "horror" film - and that can be debated. The truth is, Jaws appears to fall into the "Monster-Suspense" genre that we often see with "B" movies - and, not to diminish the film - in so many ways "Jaws" does remind us of what "B" movies were all about.

The original trailer for the 1975 release of JAWS

What is so powerful about "Jaws" is that it continues to stand the test of time. The story remains relevant today and upon re-visiting the film, your fear of going in the water re-surfaces all over again. It simply terrorized movie audiences 37 years ago, and continues to do so today.
"Jaws" is hardly a complex film, but the best moments of the film (to me) are when the shark is not present. The moments of floating endlessly and hopefully on the 'Orca' (the boat's name) with the John William's score and the sounds of the ocean water crashing against the boat create a real creepshow feeling. Referring to Jer's comment: It may well qualify as "the most recognizable pieces of contemporary classic music over the years". To add, the underwater cinematography is quite terrific and offers audiences the shark POV that tacks on to the terror.

"Jaws" is in no way one of Spielberg's best films as we must look at 3 or 4 others ("Schindler’s List" - 1993 & "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind", as well as "E.T.: The Extra- Terrestrial" and "Saving Private Ryan") before moving down the list to this cult-classic.Still, something special was certainly created here since focus on character was still a piece of the film that made it work. What we can say, and beyond a shadow of a doubt is that "Jaws" was the film that set the stage for Steven Spielberg, placing him on the map for years to come and re-defined the horror-suspense-monster genre for years to come in the world of cinema.

Robert Shaw (Quint) delivers the "Indianapolis"speech
JER: April 6th, 2011 was a date in which CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT posted a blog topic entitled: "THE TOP 25 SCREENPLAYS IN THE LAST 50 YEARS!" to which I listed JAWS as my number 10. To borrow a quote from that posting, here is what I wrote then about JAWS as a screenplay:
10. JAWS (1975) Like THE EXORCIST, what is mainly lacking in the capturing of an audience’s interest in any modern horror/ thriller is the lack of character and dialog. Peter Benchley’s best selling novel is reshaped into a building of characters on both a human and caring manner and how the lives of some change when confronted with an uncontrollable being. A highly recognized moment is placed on Robert Shaw’s “Indianapolis” speech delivered on the ‘Orca” to Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider. Plus, who can forget the immortalized “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” line?

In summary, I go back to what JOHNNY CHAZZ said in regards to: "Jaws" is hardly a complex film, but the best moments of the film (to me) are when the shark is not present. I believe that moments like Quint's delivery of the incident on- board the 'Indianapolis' is one of the greatest moments of dialog assembled and captured on film. There are plenty of great sequences to confirm JC's quote as well. Moments within the Brody household, The various fisherman arguing before casting off the docks to try to win the reward money and the two fishermen who uses the wife's holiday roast as bait that fateful dusk eve. This and many other elements help with the actual telling of a story and not just focus on the carnage of a potential R- rated film.
Shaw, Sheider, Spielberg and Dreyfuss on the set of JAWS

It may be high time for a revisit or maybe the opportune moment to see it for the first time, in any repsects, JAWS is definitely a film to sink your teeth into!

As always, we look forward to your comments on the subject... what has been your JAWS experience? Were you able to see it in theaters or have you only seen it on a home- format?
Mark your calendars as JOHNNY CHAZZ will look into his crystal ball for the inspiration to kick- off his latest blog topic on WEDNESDAY AUGUST 22nd, 2012! Thanks again for visiting us!!!

Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!

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