19 June 2012

JAWS (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1975, US) - Shark Tale


Jaws shaped much of my early experiences with mainstream American cinema. I remember watching the film religiously on a VHS copy recorded off air. Later I upgraded to a widescreen VHS version, which reminded me of how much I loathed the terms ‘pan and scan’. I guess certain films become attached to certain memories and the obvious problem with nostalgia is that emotions are inevitably hijacked, as is the case with Spielberg’s expertly directed Jaws. It does look magnificent on a new print and Bill Butler and Michael Chapman’s cinematography is stunning. Nowadays so much of the mise enscene can be easily manipulated in the postproduction process. Although Spielberg has kept up with changes in film technology, he is still one of the few filmmakers who continues to shoot on film. Yes, the sunsets are real in Jaws; they are not a CG construct. Jaws is a film that appeared before the consolidation of the term blockbuster but inadvertently gave birth to such aphenomenon. Back in the 1970s, Spielberg and co were simply setting out to make a good film. Unfortunately this is not the case today with so many filmmakers proclaiming before they have even shoot a single frame that they are settingout to make a contemporary blockbuster. How ridiculous and absurd do they sound? Of course, Jaws is very much a companion piece to Spielberg’s earlier cat and mouse thriller Duel, one of the great directorial debuts. However, the difference in terms of genre was clear. Unlike Duel’s clear grasp of the action/thriller conventions, Jaws saw Spielberg take on the most maligned of Hollywood film genres – the horror film. Those who prefer not to see Jaws as a horror film but as a film by Steven Spielberg seem to overlook how indebted the film is to the idioms of horror. I guess what makes Jaws much more than a film by Spielberg is the contribution of the talented cast and crew including most notably JohnWilliams as composer, Robert Shaw as Quint, Verna Fields as editor and a terrific script by Carl Gottlieb. Another noteworthy aspect of Jaws is the economy on display; both in terms of editing and narrative storytelling. Utilising a classical Hollywood narrative, the film is structured brilliantly and succeeds in developing the characters but also offering some terrifically executed set pieces. Like all great movie monsters the killer shark could stand in for endless anxieties, fears and allegorical interpretations from the political (Vietnam) to the personal (masculinity in crisis). Jaws is undoubtedly aclassic 1970s American (Hollywood) film and still remains one of Spielberg’s best loved and accomplished films.

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