Jaws ★★★★★

I was twelve the summer Jaws came out. My parents saw it just before we were to head to the beach, and returned home to tell me I wouldn’t be seeing it. It’s the only movie I ever remember my parents proscribing. Forty years later I still hadn’t seen it. Of course I’ve seen so many clips over the years I could probably cut the movie together if you gave me the elements.

So when I finally decided to watch it I wasn’t excepting much suspense at this point. I thought I knew the film well, an update of the thing-that-wouldn’t-die subgenera with a less-than-convincing rubber shark. I didn’t expect 28 year-old Spielberg in his second film to be so fluent in cinematic grammar and Hitchcock’s suspense toolkit. I kept focusing on his unexpectedly bravura touches. My favorites included:

– Perhaps because of the all-spoiler title, Spielberg opts for a slow reveal, strip-tease cinema: Trashing water, a bit of a fin revealed, and body on the beach blocked from view by driftwood, and then a really nice great touch, typed words on a police report —“Shark attack.”

– Robert Shaw gets one of the great cinematic entrances when the crowd in the classroom parts to reveal him for the first time. Spielberg has clearly seen the opening scene of Marlon Brando in Viva Zapata.

– The cleverly shot sequence of Chief Brody reading up on sharks at home with books like The Shark: Splendid Savage of the Sea by Jacques-Yves Cousteau

– The moving dock set piece with the shark dragging the under equipped bounty-seekers about

– The boat leaving the harbor shot thru the shark jaws.

Quint’s speech about surviving the USS Indianapolis (Ok, maybe that’s more a bravura John Milius moment than Spielberg.)

– And my favorite Hitchcock moment: the fishing reel’s ratchet when Quint hooks the shark . . . tick . . . tick . . . literally ratcheting up the suspense and Spielberg cutting back and forth between the reel and Shaw’s eyes.

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