Gabby: I like many others have a huge love of Jaws. Now I know two guys with a similar appreciation with the film; my pal a Sol Ott who might be the biggest Jaws fan I know, as well as my pal Shaunn Grullkowski. So guys, we are all big fans of Jaws! What are your histories with the film? What was the first time you watched it and has your relationship with the movie changed since?
Sol: I guess I have the easy going parenting style of the early 80s to thank for my first viewing of Jaws – I’m not sure exactly when because it’s my very earliest movie memory, but I watched it with my parents when I was between 3 and 4 and apparently loved it immediately as it was all I wanted to watch for the next couple of years. I don’t remember finding it particularly scary (probably because I didn’t understand death) – I responded mostly to what I perceived was the heroism of Roy Scheider’s character, Chief Brody (I remember fantasizing about seeing a shark and running up and down the beach yelling at everyone to get out of the water), and the adventure of the second half.
As I got older I began picking up on the finer nuances of the story and Brody’s character in particular – how he deals with his personal fears, small-town politics and urban vs. rural masculinity issues. Now I think I appreciate it most for being such a great example of the serendipitous nature of filmmaking – it’s a weird sort of miracle how what I’d consider to be a perfect movie came about from a production riddled with so many “mistakes”!
In short, it was love at first sight and that love has only grown deeper and more complex over time – 30 years later it’s still my favourite movie!
Shaunn: Jaws is one of the few movies I can think of that are better than their source material. I recently got a book deal, my first book will be out Dec 2nd. It’s a sci-fi piece but I’m also a big film guy, and my personal relationship to Jaws, is that it, in my opinion, is the perfect American movie. Not best, maybe, but just perfect. It’s the only movie I can think of that works for everyone. It’s something I try to think about when I write. I tend to skew weird, but it’s always in my head that for art to really be good, it should be accessible. The more people that can enjoy it, regardless of education or background, the more effective of a piece it is. It’s something that I’m not sure Spielberg ever really hits on again, but who really could? Not saying he’s been doing impossible to touch highbrow art pieces since, but Jaws is so special. I’m always super stoked when I can show it to someone for the first time. It’s something I wish I could do all the time. I love turning people on to things.
Gabby: My first experience with Jaws was only a few years ago. Of course I had seen bits of it and heard the theme song and seen t-shirts with the movie poster on it a great many times. But I hadn’t actually sat down to watch it properly until 2011. I wanted to see it so much, but I wanted the perfect Jaws experience which I managed to organise for myself. In my old house we had a front room with a big screen TV and I waited until I was all on my own in the house and sat myself down to watch it. I was totally absorbed by every second of it. I think the suspense is some of the most effectively created suspense in any horror/thriller. It also is just technically so brilliantly made it is hard to pick out just a few elements of it to compliment without gushing. I have seen it many times since that first experience, including a screening of it this year at the Prince Charles Cinema in London. Jaws is really worth a cinema experience if anyone can manage it. As there are so many elements to talk about with this film, let’s pick up on what Sol said.
What do you think the character of Brody brings to the commentary that is going on with the desire to keep the beach open through greed? How do you reflect on his character in response to representation of on screen masculinity; and what do Quint and Hopper bring to that theme of masculinity?
Sol: Brody’s involvement in the beach remaining open is interesting because, though he is blamed by both himself and Mrs. Kintner I don’t think we as the audience ever hold him particularly accountable. He was so clearly pressured into acquiescence with the unspoken threat of losing his job that it’s more a commentary on how capitalism has ultimate authority, even over the authority of “The Law”, than an indictment of Brody.
This dynamic also plays into his rather unique brand of masculinity. On the face of it he should be the very picture of manliness – a New York City cop – but in many ways he is the least “manly” character in the movie. He is unable to stand up to Mayor Vaughan and his cronies, he’s irrationally afraid of the water and he’s almost childlike in his incompetence aboard the Orca. I’m sure he’d take the lead if he, Hooper and Quint took a field trip to Manhattan, but he’s a fish out of water (groan) in pretty much every context he’s in throughout.
Quint and Hooper bring their own different commentaries on masculinity. Quint is very much the rural man’s man – strong, handy, capable, loud and full of bravado – but, at the same time, his immaturity betrays his insecurity and you can imagine he has a rigid comfort zone that he doesn’t like to stray from. Hooper is somewhere in the middle – he’s a spunky little guy, academic and from a wealthy background, so he doesn’t fit the classic idea of “manly”, but he is the only character that seems to be in his element wherever he is.
All in all three very different portraits of masculinity which perhaps (though I’m not sure this was intentional), when taken together, add up to a “complete man”.
Shaunn: I think the best way for me to organize my thoughts is to correlate each of the three leads to a particular war/era.
Quint is obviously WW2. He’s the archetypal “man” of that era. Let’s face it, Quint could butch up a John Ford flick. He still has an obvious sensitivity, as Sol eluded to, but it’s that sort of “Death in the Afternoon” lonely sadness that differentiates his emotional stance from that of Hooper and Brody. A bloggier type might refer to Quint as hysterically masculine, but I think it’s more of an idealized type of man (although flawed) that’s a running theme in Spielberg’s work.
Hooper is the modern man, the Vietnam/Post-Vietnam reaction to the Quint type. Although he’s a scientist, I feel like he reads as an artist-type, someone whom you don’t have to wonder about his feelings, as he puts everything on display. I think it’s interesting how he and Quint develop a relationship based on similar-but-still-very different experiences. It reads as a father and his adult son finally coming to grips with the fact that they’re essentially the same person at their core; despite how they present themselves.
Brody is really the hardest to nail down for me. I like to put him in the Korean war category, although age-wise, I’m not sure that quite works. But as shorthand, I think it’s appropriate, inasmuch as he’s the bridge between the two. Brody is the man searching for his identity, in the same way that Korea is a sort of forgotten war. Brody also shares traits with both Quint and Hooper, while never really coming down on one side or the other. Brody’s main motivator seems to be fear; like other men of that era I feel that he’s afraid of not living up to the Masculine ideal (Quint) while also being afraid of the sensitivity and unguarded nature of the modern man (Hooper.) I still feel there’s a weird vulnerability to Brody that’s kind of a vestigial issue carried over from the book (re: Ellen and Hooper’s relationship), but we’re talking the movie, and that book as terrible.
To pin it: I see the three of them as the evolution of masculinity in America. I also like how the three of us, coming from three different countries all see it slightly differently.
Sol: That’s a great interpretation – I wasn’t considering how these three different portrayals of masculinity came together as a thematic whole but I think you nailed it. Particularly your take on Brody who I personally relate to the most – growing up in a rural fishing town there’s still some pressure to live up to that old-school Masculine ideal and being a naturally sensitive kinda guy (with an artsy father “from away”), I always felt a little stuck between two worlds myself.
Gabby: These are great answers both of you. It is an interesting dynamic to compare their personalities to put that in contrast with the wars they may have been closely associated with. I think it is definitely a film with a thematic link to how generations have changed and what that means for the modern man. I love that idea of the three of them coming together to form the complete man as it were. They really show a unity. Maybe then if you put those threads together you have this idea that with a unity between different ages, you will most likely come up with the best solution. Rather than to just go with the first and most powerful person who stomps his foot in the sand (when it comes to closing beaches or anything else). Teamwork is a really big part of the film and we see that as individuals these men are not going to succeed, but together they can pull off something incredible.
I like the fact you bring up sensitivity. As I think allowing the men to have moments of it, they become much more rounded characters than you would expect from a movie called Jaws, or many Hollywood films. It also goes a long way to help show that when men express their feelings we can connect with them and we do not judge them, as some might think. What do you think these fears, vulnerabilities add to the film?
When you saw Jaws nowadays a lot of people who haven’t seen it, or even some that do will think shark movie. Yet we notoriously hardly see the shark. I think this is a testament to how well the suspense is built up in the film. Do you have any favourite moments that stand out in terms of dealing with the shark? And what about the quieter and maybe less talked about moments that you love?
Sol: The great thing about the fears and vulnerabilities of the characters in Jaws is how they serve to add both to the movie’s depth AND it’s horror. It’s got all of this great character stuff that makes it more interesting and complex than your standard horror fare and, because they’re not all invulnerable “manly men”, we get to be afraid WITH the characters instead of just FOR them, making for a more sympathetic and frightening experience.
As for the object of that fear, there are so many great ways Spielberg shows it without showing it – one of my favourites is the night scene where two fishermen attempt to catch the shark from a pier and it pulls the whole thing down. The piece of the structure we know is attached to the shark essentially becomes the shark and when it turns around and starts bearing down on the guy in the water it’s one of the most intense and terrifying scenes in the movie.
And there’s a great quiet moment I just noticed during my last viewing. Near the beginning when Brody is strolling through the idyllic streets of Amity we hear a bird chirping that adds to the perfect quaintness of it all. Brody hears it too and just gives this subtle look of acknowledgement that I think says a lot about how much this cop from New York City appreciates his new home.
Gabby: I really agree with you there Sol. Sharing those moments of binding and fear with those characters really pulls you into the film. What about you Shaunn?
Shaunn: I guess the question is is Jaws a horror movie? I usually say it is, because I’m not super-well versed in horror. So, Jaws becomes my default “favorite horror movie” whenever someone asks. But, when I think about it, I’m not sure it is, any more than say, No Country for Old Men. I’m probably not the first person to say it, but Anton Chigurh is basically the shark from Jaws. Neither of them have any emotional investment in their victims, which is usually the main motivating factor of the killer in a horror movie. Obviously that’s not the case in Zombie or Vampire movies, generally, but Neither the Shark nor Chigur seem to be motivated by their own survival like monsters tend to be (feeding, protecting their homes, etc.) Chigur, and the Shark just *are*.
To me, they both just represent nature clearing the slate, or God’s wrath, or instruments of karma, or whatever semi-ethereal delivery of retribution you might subscribe to. The thrust of the movie, to me, besides the relationship to one another, is the idea of a person being able to overcome their environment; to dig in their heels against their creator(s) and become a rational agent in their own existence.
For quiet scenes? I always liked the scene with Martin and Ellen where Ellen is correcting him on the North-Eastern pronunciation of “yard.” When he goes into the “the yahd, not fah from the cah.” I always found great. Like Sol’s scene; it kind of reinforces Brody’s possibly un-severable (sp?) tie to New York, and kind of foreshadows how he can’t assimilate enough to get the townies to trust him. Just that little exchange really spells Brody’s perpetual alienation out to the viewer and Lorraine Gary is so goddamn good.
I had the opportunity to see it in the theater recently, and the movie is a flat out miracle. It’s 40 years old, I’ve seen it dozens of times, yet I’m still completely with it start to finish. Also the new and younger viewers at the theater were completely into it. A movie where literally anything could have made it come apart at the seams, and yet everything works, and it always will.
Gabby: I want to briefly add that if anyone has not read it, there is a fantastic BFI Film Classics book by one of my favourite writers/critics Antonia Quirke, which I highly recommend. To add to what you said Shaunn, when I did get to see it at that cinema in Leicester Square last year I got to appreciate the fact that it is just flawless. In fact, I really want to go re-watch it right now.