Sunday, January 28, 2018

Don't Make a Scene: Jaws

The Story: For me, the artistry of Steven Spielberg is not in the big things, but the little ones. Yes, Jaws is a great picture for the brio with which it was made, crafting an action thriller in the one place where things get cinematically slowed down—the water—with an antagonist that is barely seen, because it was technologically tough to pull off in salt water (translation: the damned shark rarely worked).  

Spielberg had to conjure suspense out of nothing but ideas, and he was learned enough in cinematic tricks to pull it off. That's what everybody remembers.  

But, when I think of Jaws, I remember how he managed to get a sense of community and decent performances out of the locals, and how he managed to make things matter before we go shark-hunting. In a movie where the people could get lost in the movie-making mechanism, ground up like in the teeth of a shark, Spielberg and his writers emphasized character and made us care.  

I always remember this scene from Jaws, when I think of how good a film-maker Spielberg is. It's just an economical thirty seconds, hardly a bump in the road, in the film's momentum. But it shows the depths of grief Brody is going through, and why he would personally take on the task of joining the Orca expedition to take on The Great White Shark.

The Set-Up: Amity Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) has had a rough few days. He's getting pressure from all sides. A great white shark has decided to make a high tourist season beach its personal buffet, killing several of its townspeople. The citizenry is, naturally, alarmed. The mayor wants the news stifled, and local experts are starting to nose around. Plus, there are several shark-vigilante groups stupid enough to try to hunt it down. A tiger shark has just been caught, but the interest has died down when the mother of one of the victims has confronted and slapped the Chief in public.  

That night, at the dinner table, things are subdued.

Action.



INT. BRODY HOUSE - NIGHT - DINING ROOM 


Brody and Ellen, Sean and Michael, have all finished dinner. 
Brody's plate is untouched, a virgin meatloaf. His glass, on the other hand, is well used, with the remnants of a stiff scotch and ice. 
 He is staring across the table at the youngest, Sean, who makes a face at him.
He makes a face back. 
They play this game together for a few minutes.
 BRODY C'mere
BRODY: give Daddy us a kiss. 
SEAN Why? 
BRODY Because he I needs it. 
Sean gives Daddy the kiss. Brody shoos him and Michael off to bed. 
Ellen, who is feeling progressively more left out with each passing moment, gets up abruptly and clears a few dishes. Brody is not letting her into his world for the moment, and it shows. 
There's a knock at the door.
BRODY Now, get outta here.



Jaws

Words by Carl Gottlieb and Peter Benchley

Pictures by Bill Butler and Steven Spielberg

Jaws is available on DVD from Universal Home Video.




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