Film Ramblings: JAWS(1975) The Greatest Drinking Blockbuster of All Time (Part2)

The first part of this bucket of chopped up bait fish is here

Alcohol has given me a few nights when my memory is about as clear as a windshield covered with the splattered remains of a plague of locust. That damned, delicious Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey will make you forget what planet you are on. Those are brutal mornings, the guilt equivalent of a ten mile run in combat boots and a frilly Speedo. You fall off the couch and feel like you got broadsided by a 600 pound go-go dancer, with nothing to show for it except an overdrawn credit card and bruised ribs. You look at your tongue in the mirror and it has a thick coating of shame on it that has the faint smell of new tennis balls and stained underwear. As you wallow in your stench before you shower, you realize that it is never the things you do while you are in a blackout that are the problem.

It is the things you think you might have done. Cue melodramatic soap opera organ music.

Chief Brody, played by the great Roy Scheider, has the slow rise from the bed like a mummy clawing its way out of its damp tomb. He winces slightly as he grabs his work clothes. The morning sun bathes his attractive wife(Lorraine Gary) in a golden light, a trophy for being a decent guy. It might also illuminate all his past recklessness, whether it was from the previous night or when he was dealing with criminals as a cop in NYC. The sunlight can be scary. It exposes the darkest corners of our souls for everyone to see and judge. More horror movies should take place during the day.

The audience may surmise that the chief is no stranger to whetting the whistle with the hard stuff. You need something to dull the senses of raising the family in the tornado of everyday life. Nothing like the slow burn of a cigarette to reduce that hangover to ash. It is the seventies, you can strike a match and light up as your kid is eating his cereal. The term second hand smoke probably referred to the cigarette butts plucked out of ash trays in bus terminals and office buildings to be reused by our citizens with housing deficiencies. I think they were called bums back then.

I used to love Cheerios coated with nicotine. Thanks dad.

Director Spielberg perfectly captures the hurried, sloppy machinations of the American family here. This was something he was a master at, dusting up a Norman Rockwell painting and giving the subject some flaws. All families are messed up in one way or another. We all have idiosyncrasies, faults and addictions to substances or habitual behavior that our neighbors thumb their noses at. To hell with the judgmental people on your street. They probably have a retarded uncle chained to a radiator in their basement. We all have enough skeletons in our closets to build a skyscraper made of bones. Perfection, except in female breasts, is boring anyway. Spielberg conjures up a wonderful picture of the bubbling lunacy of everyday life with the amazing sound design in JAWS.

The audience’s ears are filled with the sounds of a screen door slamming, a rusty swing set swaying in the morning sun, children’s cheerful chatter, and the soothing warble of talk radio with the windows open as you drive down a beach road on a summer morning. Let’s not forget the ear shattering ringing of those rotary phones. I can vividly remember hearing the neighbors’ phone ring in those days. They must have had massive church bells installed inside them. All these sounds give the audience a false sense of security. Spielberg shows us that Amity Island is no different than any other town in America. It may have had much in common with towns in Austria, Portugal or Patagonia, as well.

What could possibly go wrong in this scenic, serene place?

There hasn’t been a murder in Amity in over twenty five years. The scariest thing might be that you are at a holiday barbecue and they run out of beer. I can only tell you if that happened to me then we got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July. Once the booze wears off you are left to your own devices to fend for yourself. It sometimes isn’t too pleasant when you see those drunk texts you sent eight hours previously when you are trying to force some greasy food into your gut for some ballast. Things that seem like a good idea when you are inebriated usually don’t play the same way when your blood alcohol levels are back below the legal limit. Luckily, for this writer, I never woke up on the beach next to the mangled remains of a woman I was trying to bag the night before. I don’t think the cops in my town ever needed to call in a marine biologist due to the stupid things I said to a lass as I discussed Charles Bukowski with her and dented my credit card buying her all manner of shots and expensive nautical cocktails.

Many women I meet think Bukowski plays linebacker for the NY Jets. It’s tough to be a literary boozer on Long Island. The distance in miles is very close to the cute, hipster chicks in Brooklyn, but it is like trying to swim to shore with flannel hunting gear on with a shark towing a piece of dock after you.

Most people with even a casual interest in film are aware of the massively difficult shoot that JAWS was. The mechanical shark wasn’t as seaworthy as the film crew anticipated. The salt water made the shark about as temperamental as a crusty fisherman getting cut off in a Montauk bar. These problems, however, led Spielberg and company to come up with ingenious ways of showing the audience that there was a massive monster on the prowl just below the surface of the water.

This creativity is most evident in the scene with the two fisherman on a pier trying to earn a three thousand dollar bounty on the shark by tossing a holiday roast into the bay and waiting to see what happens. The slab of meat is placed on a formidable hook and tied to a car tire that acts as an industrial strength fishing bobber.

After some inventive editing showing Brody flipping through books filled with photos of gory shark attack victims intercut with the two fisherman whistling and waiting on the dock in the chilly evening, the audience sees the tire getting gently tugged from below. Suddenly the tire is getting pulled through the water like it was being dragged by one of the those speedboats with four engines mounted on their stern. The heavy duty chain that attaches the hook to the dock unravels at a furious pace. Once the chain runs out of slack, it goes taut and the shark pulls half the dock and one of the fisherman into the icy water.

The audience realizes the waterlogged man is in deep trouble with the glorious shot when the section of dock, creaking and moaning like an elephant with arthritis, turns around and gives chase to the fisherman who is floundering in the water. The chase is on and the fisherman, out of shape and not such an agile swimmer, claws his way towards his friend’s outstretched hand on the pier. John Williams’ music really heightens the suspense in this moment as it is nothing short of the Grim Reaper that is bearing down on the dude in the water.

The film JAWS is a miracle of evolution.

Almost imitating the futility of trying to savor a lap dance by a twenty five year old Ornella Muti, JAWS swims by at a lightning place. Nary a bite is wasted by Spielberg and his production crew. Spielberg and his screenwriters wisely decided to streamline the bestselling novel by Peter Benchley. The novelist, himself, also took a crack at the screenplay and there was apparently some tension between he and the young director. The script has a lazer focus on the reign of terror that the shark has on Amity Island, without reducing the characters to simply being fish food. In my opinion, this is a good thing because, when the shark isn’t chomping down on people in its pages, the novel JAWS is a pretty bland read. Grass and gazpacho? This isn’t Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, sweetheart. This is JAWS. As I have never earned one cent for anything I have written, perhaps my harsh judgement of the novel is, at best, misguided.

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4 thoughts on “Film Ramblings: JAWS(1975) The Greatest Drinking Blockbuster of All Time (Part2)

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  1. When I was a little girl going to sleepovers, Jaws seemed to always be playing on TV. Some snippets I’ve seen dozens of times. On the Universal lot in California, the set is partially recreated and that was so trippy.

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