Jaws: Threat or Menace?

Thirty-seven years later, it seems like the best thing to come out of “Jaws” was Joe Dante’s 1978 parody “Piranha,” but the mark Steven Speilberg’s first runaway hit has left on the movies seems truly indelible, in terms of how American films are conceived and marketed. On the occasion of Universal’s fine new Blu-ray release of the film, a few hazy, humid thoughts on the original summer blockbuster in my New York Times column this week.

57 comments to Jaws: Threat or Menace?

  • jbryant

    I saw A HATFUL OF RAIN in 2006 on Fox Movie Channel, in proper AR. It did indeed look fine. I also thought the film was pretty decent except perhaps for some Method excesses.

    It’s a shame that we can no longer rely on TCM for correct ARs; this has been going on for a while now. It’s still only a fraction of their output that’s affected, but still.

  • I had never before thought that Scottie would “join” Madeleine at the end of VERTIGO as Antti, quite correctly I think, suggested was possible in a Wagnerian sense. It never entered my mind, but of course it is very plausible: after an attack of vertigo, you faint, even if you don’t mean to jump!

    And where was there to go for Scottie? To the rest home, this time for good? What was it again, what the Bel Geddes character said after visiting Scottie there? She didn’t have much hope for Scottie.

    Still, thankfully Hitchcock left the film as it is, on the ledge, on a cliffhanger. As and ending it is sublime and courageous. What ever did the opening night audience think about that?! The film does not allow Scottie (or us) any satisfaction or closure. There’s two hours worth of foreplay but no climax, only coitus interruptus. The story moves in a nightmarish loop, on repeat, until there’s nowhere to go.

    Antti wrote also about Herrmann’s hommage to Wagner’s Liebestod. Not being a classical expert myself I have sometimes mistaken one for the other in films. I’m sure that would have been the case in THE ARTIST if I hadn’t read about Kim Novak protesting about the use of Herrmann’s score. THE ARTIST maybe should have used Liebestod instead, as an “hommage” to Dalí and Buñuel’s soundtrack of UN CHIEN ANDALOU – since that one is a silent film and VERTIGO isn’t.

    Recently also Trier used Liebestod in the best part of his MELANCHOLIA. I only liked the opening and the ending of MELANCHOLIA, but both it and VERTIGO are surreal films.

    Hitchcock knew both Buñuel and Dalí and their works, so perhaps his use of Wagner was also an hommage to those surrealist brothers. VERTIGO has to be the most surreal thing Hitchcock ever did – and we know for sure at least that he admired TRISTANA (“that leg!”).

    In VERTIGO the same actress plays two different characters, in CET OBSCURE OBJET DU DÉSIR, two actresses play the same character. Also, both Hitchcock and Buñuel seemed to be obsessed by icy, gorgeous blondes.

  • Peter Henne

    Jaime, To follow-up on my 8-20, 1:50am post, I made a point of driving across the Vincent-Thomas Bridge yesterday, a route I’ve taken hundreds of times before. Observing how to get over the side wasn’t something I’d noticed before. You have to climb a chainlink fence about 15 feet high. It’s worth noting that the bridge is a visual landmark over much of San Pedro, and falls in the center of view from many hillside homes facing east.

    A person’s death often brings me to find something I can like about what they did when they were around. While I’m not a fan of Tony Scott’s films, this sad event brings me to recognize the spree and accomplishment of some of his camera moves. These were done with unmistakable relish. I hope that his family finds some peace in these troubled times.

  • Barry Putterman

    Antti & Hannu, for variations on the Wagner/Liebestod ending, you might want to check out Borzage’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS and Siodmak’s CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY.

  • Noel Vera

    “nothing’s more unsettling than the shot of the very first lone crow lighting the jungle-gym. It telegraphs *exactly* what’s about to happen.”

    Jolts that are prepared for expertly, preferably in silence. I’ll buy into that.

    I remember when the moments used to be called ‘buses,’ and Tourneur talks about them extensively here:

    http://tinyurl.com/cc2ndbw

    Arguably the strangest moments of sustained dread and suspense–where a period of anticipation ends not in a jolt but some kind of suspended state–can be found in the films of Kurosawa Kiyoshi. Cure, or Pulse come to mind.

  • Alex

    Barry Putterman

    Was including NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD among my pre-JAWS “jolt” classics ignoring hrrror films?I excluded CARRIE because that justly famous final jolt is less an example of how the adrenalin thriller getting us on a roller coaster of a film than how to get one off a film with a super charged spin on an O’Henry-like farewell.

    Larry Kart,

    There are, to be sure, “significant ‘jolts’ in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN,” but it post-dates my somwhat arbitrarily pre-JAWS list.

    The commercial coining of “adrenaline thriller” comes out of the publicity campaign for Bigelow’s POINT BREAK.

    The core studies are in Geoff King’s insightful NEW HOLLYWOOD and SPECTACULAR NARRATIVE.

    RIP Tony Scott, who in films like TRUE ROMANCE, ENEMY OF THE STATE and UNSTOPPABLE did the adrenalin thriller proud.

  • pete

    Antti reminds me of the scene in THE BIRDS between Annie and Melanie, in Annie’s living room, as they discuss Mitch and Lydia. For some reason, off in a corner of the room, Annie’s record collection has always caught my eye. An album with a yellow cover stands on the hi-fi, the record likely on the turntable. What is it that Annie has been listening to? TRISTAN AND ISOLDE.