Monday June 29, 2009
Sunday Movie Night: “Jaws” (1975)
We have Sunday movie nights occasionally and last night nine of us watched “Jaws.” Some hadn't seen it since it came out; some had never seen it. I‘ve seen it, what, five times? As recently as a few years ago, as long ago as 1975 at the second-run Boulevard Theater in south Minneapolis (99 cents anytime), five blocks from where I grew up. Back then I shut my eyes through several scenes: the initial skinny-dipping attack; Hooper scuba-diving under the hull of Ben Gardner’s boat. Basically anything that combined “shark” and “dark.”
How much did this movie eff me up? For months afterward, I could barely take a shower. Rinsing shampoo out, I'd think: “What if I open my eyes and I'm underwater and there's a shark coming towards me? WHAT THEN?” Stupid brain. Stupid Spielberg.
It was the movie that changed movies, that made the summer blockbuster possible, but it's still smart, and it's still for grownups. It's got an early ‘70s vibe: the corruption of local government, personified by Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton, Mr. Robinson from “The Graduate”), who puts tourist dollars ahead of tourist lives; the class distinctions on the island, which Quint mocks; the use of locals as extras; the wonderful scene between Brody and his son at the dinner table, where the son keeps imitating the father; Quint’s horrifying story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. Hell, the entire introduction of Quint is great: the fingernails scraping the chalkboard, the frank discussion of the shark, the offer made with a glint of the eye. Add it to the list of great cinematic introductions: Pepe in “Pepe Le Moko,” Rick in “Casablanca,” Capt. Jack Sparrow in the first “Pirates.” Off the top of my head.
Spielberg frames his shots beautifully. I particularly like Brody, Hooper and Vaughn arguing, walking, and then, without a cut, walking into this shot:
“Jaws” was the no. 1 movie of the year in 1975, and, for a time, the no. 1 movie of all time. (Adjusted for inflation, it's still seventh.) It was also, lest we forget, nominated for best picture. Back then we could do that kind of thing.
So... Any recommendations for next movie night?