Saturday, July 5, 2014

Jaws (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Jaws (1975)

Jaws. The very sound of the title evokes so many images. Most potently, I am brought back to when I was little Ian at ten years old, going to Cape May and loving the water, making castles with a metal pail. Even my own frail body seemingly made of beach sand.

I had heard about the film and I had to see it. I was sitting between my dad's two girlfriends in a Volkswagen bug. They giggled and tickled me with wild abandon.

I didn't know what I was getting into.

I recall the dark and moody first scene. The hyper-realism of the gun-metal gray ocean and the horrible, wrenching and frightening death of Chrissie (Susan Backlinie) as she is swept under darkness with great violence---a parallel to Marion Crane's murder in "Psycho".

Like Hitchcock, this initial scene is quite scary, having its own motion and poetry almost like ballet.

In a later scene Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) spins his wife (Lorraine Gary) around in saying goodbye as if to mimic the previous tragic scene. What was unimaginable just moments before, has now turned to erotic foreplay.

The iconic characters are present on the big screen once more in a digitally restored version of the 1975 classic.

The mealy mouthed Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) is  as always, the one you love to hate (or feel pathetic about), his comically garish anchor jacket eerie, offensive and ludicrous under the grim circumstances of Something under the water eating residents.

The toothy terror strikes irrationally without mercy or reason very much like the diabolical attack of cute tiny Regan in "The Exorcist". This was after all, the era of Watergate and Vietnam. Both 70s films attempt to address those inexplicable and sudden tragedies.

The salty and physical Quint (Robert Shaw) is brought in as a kind of healer/ killer to exorcise the resort town of a primordial Evil. The shark is drawn on a chalkboard in the manner of a veve, or religious fetish, jagged and primitive.

Director Steven Spielberg accomplishes all these angles with great speed and grace, despite the perils of working with a mechanical shark on the open water of an often inclement Martha's Vineyard.

"Jaws" is both a social commentary on the ills of tourism run rampant and a tingling thriller that points to "E.T." and "Raiders of the Lost Ark," given its leaps of flourishing music by John Williams and its striking closeups of shocking gore which remind one of the frequent skulls and snakes of the Indiana Jones films.

Spielberg is a young master at portraying this resort town in red, white and blue and illustrating the fear in every person. Many of the shots zoom in on sunburned legs and fat white bellies giving some grim gallows humor as to what might become a human "smorgasbord."

This is a town literally coming undone at its flag-seams, where tourists arrive in droves, munching ice cream and chattering, and sometimes even oblivious to a shark seen at the next beach. Perhaps "Jaws" is even a commentary on the permissiveness of the hippies. The early victims are shown nonchalantly dismembering a lobster and smoking  pot.

Eat and be eaten.

The biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) although helpful, frequently hyperventilates and becomes ineffectual. He rambles, going on tangents almost reminiscent of early Woody Allen. At times, Hooper's staccato boomings are comical and kitsch in retrospect (This is no boat accident...this isn't Jack the's a shark!) but this is all to the better.

The next day after seeing the film for the first time, with those frightful images of a severed goggle-eyed head still in mind,  I somehow kicked my skinny, hook-like feet in a shallow Jersey Shore sea.

Now after 39 years, I can jumpily report that "Jaws" still has all its teeth.

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