Film Ramblings: JAWS(1975) The Greatest Drinking Blockbuster of All Time (Part 3)

Part 1 is here

Part 2 is here

“NO LAW SHALL EXIST TO DENY OR LIMIT THE RIGHT OF A PERSON TO DRINK ALCOHOL DURING THE DAYLIGHT HOURS.”

Tarmac’s addition to the Bill of Rights

 

I dig day drinking. I believe it is our God given right to be able to drink a frosty beer under the comforting light of day. Being an Atheist doesn’t change anything. Simply remember that the right to punish your liver while getting a painful sunburn wasn’t granted to you by some bureaucratic landlubber in an over-starched dress shirt, or unsightly polyester pantsuit. Certain rights are inalienable and day drinking is in my Declaration of Intoxication. I’m a patriotic puker. If I overdose on the hard ciders, I am sure to spray paint my toilet with the colors of our flag. By the twilight’s last gleaming, I will be passed out in the bathtub.

I am not as majestic as the Star Spangled Banner.

Drinking during hours that society doesn’t usually find acceptable can lead to some issues. You can find yourself drunk in situations that you shouldn’t be. Most people that believe in individual expression probably don’t care what society perceives to be normal, however. Have you seen some of the shit that is going on in this world? Nonetheless, many of us have family and friends and we should try not to besmirch their good names by hitting on your pregnant cousin at your nephew’s little league game. There’s a reason their concession stand doesn’t sell beer.

Right after Chief Brody gets slapped by a grieving mother who blames him for her ten year old son getting killed by the shark, JAWS turns ninety proof. Booze and blood flow freely, accompanied by humorous sea shanties sung by a salty shark fisherman who would have most likely been one of Trump’s surrogates. Not to worry, the liberal elite are represented by Hooper, played by a scholarly looking Richard Dreyfuss.

A guilt-stricken Brody, looking like he has been tossing them back since early afternoon, sits at the dinner table and pays more attention to his booze than the chicken  his wife has prepared for them. In an emotional and playful moment, Brody’s youngest son mimics him(he is drinking milk) until the Chief lovingly sends him on his way. This moment is typical Spielberg and it gives the film heart and it grounds it in reality. Luckily, it never sends the movie off course and lets is get lost in melodramatic waters.

I have seen that embarrassed smile on Ellen Brody’s face when the Chief drops half a bottle of wine into his whiskey glass after Hooper comes over for a free meal and to discuss marine biology. I get that look every year from an aunt or two at Thanksgiving dinner with my relatives. Like Hooper informing a drunken Brody that Amity still has a shark problem, there is always some sober idiot at my family gatherings that drops bad news on us. Terminal disease and foreclosure have teeth just as sharp as a Great White.

After an expertly filmed and suspenseful scene when Brody, apparently drunk enough to go out on the water, and Hooper attempt to survey the wreckage of a fisherman’s boat at night, our two heroes confront the mayor with some bad news. The mayor, played by an effective Murray Hamilton, only seems to care about summer dollars. A killer shark will cut into his bottom line just as badly as those hefty Northeast taxes. To be fair, most of us would probably rather deal with a twenty five foot Great White than your average IRS auditor. The look of bored disdain on Hamilton’s face as Brody and Hooper make their case is as priceless as his powder blue sports coat decked out with anchors.

Faster than it takes a severed leg to float to the bottom of an estuary, the ruined mayor signs a voucher so that Brody can hire the brutish and bawdy Quint to find and kill the shark. Quint is played with imposing glee by the great Robert Shaw. Quint is one of those characters that you meet in life that has the ability to make all the grown men in the room feel like nervous children. When Brody and Hooper meet Quint at his home base, the crusty seaman instantly sizes them up. He tests them with some homemade,  potent booze and disparages the younger Hooper about his soft, city hands.

If you want to play the lecturer at a university, Quint and Hooper might represent the two Americas of the epic and divisive 2016 election. Society likes their stereotypes. They are never completely true, but they usually aren’t total fabrications, either. Quint could stand in for the hard working, practical blue collar Trump voter. They are someone that might lack the sheepskins on the wall, but has the grit and guts to take on life. Hooper, on the other hand, represents the hyper-educated and wealthy Clinton supporter. They are learned, successful and ensconced in the ivy covered halls of Academia. If JAWS was just a straight up horror movie how would film professors justify their handsome salaries?

When the three men embark on their seafaring mission, the social dynamic takes center stage until the shark rears its ugly head. While Quint and Hooper bicker like Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, they have common ground as they both understand the ocean environment, albeit for different reasons. In contrast, Brody is the outsider. He is a third wheel, unsure of how anything is supposed to go down on Quint’s dilapidated fishing boat, The Orca. The Chief is like the fresh faced virgin in the Army barracks during basic training, unable to trade stories with more experienced and confident men.

Still, shared experience can only take a relationship so far. Quint and Hooper circle each other like two dogs fighting over a bone. Quint, physically, is the alpha dog. Using alcohol as a weapon, he tries to impose his will on Hooper. This is evident when Quint chugs a can of Narragansett Beer and crushes it while he glares at Hooper. The fisherman’s stare is telling the smaller marine biologist that he could crumple him like an empty can of beer. It might be the most intimidating beverage drink in film history. Samuel L Jackson comes close when he sips on Frank Whaley’s soft drink in Pulp Fiction.

Hooper’s non verbal comeback to Quint flexing his beer muscles is a classic cinema sight gag. His strength is his smarts and wit. Hooper is the consummate East Coast wise ass. If you can’t punch your way out of something, tell some jokes. It has worked fairly well for me for quite some time. I do have a few cuts and bruises, however. Flying fists hurt worse than words.

Booze plays a huge part in one of the most famous scenes in motion picture history. It’s a scene that sends chills down the audience’s spine like they were drowning in the icy waters off Cape Horn. And the shark isn’t even in it. When a drunken Quint recounts his experience on the doomed USS Indianapolis during WW II, we understand why he might have a bone to pick with sharks. Based on true story, Robert Shaw’s monologue is more frightening than most horror movies that have come out in the last twenty years. Watching the look of terror on the faces of Hooper and Brody when Quint recounts the gory end of his friend, Herbie Robinson, is worth more than all the blood and guts in the Friday the 13th flicks. Even the filming of this scene is soaked in boozy legend. If you have time, look it up.

And what of the famously temperamental titular star of JAWS? The mechanical shark was sometimes tougher to handle than a drunken Sam Peckinpah trying to fight stuntmen on set. Like many bitchy stars, in the end, the shark performs well. Even after forty two years, the mechanical monster comes off as realistic in many scenes. The first time we really get a good look at the beast, when it turns a man in the estuary into a bloody mess, the shark looks scarily real. It moves in the water the same way we see real Great Whites taking slabs of meat off hooks in documentaries.

As the three men hunt the shark on Quint’s boat, Spielberg, his editor(Verna Fields) and cinematographer(Bill Butler) really earn their paychecks from Universal. I would estimate the shark is only on screen for the same amount of time it takes to slam down six shots of whiskey. I figure that is five minutes. The entire cast and crew of JAWS have the audience so vested in the story that we never notice that the shark is really only a bit player.

In closing, JAWS is a classic monster movie with vibrant characters, pulse-pounding suspense and expertly filmed action. It also features some of the greatest scenes of alcohol consumption in movie history. If the sight of blood makes you as queasy as hearing some mean words, please change the channel. JAWS has both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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