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?

  • After having recently seen the digital restoration of “Jaws” on the big screen, what really caught my eye was when Brody and the others are on the boat, that in the sky, if you pay attention, you can see a shooting star go by. This little detail I think is important. Just how with “Jaws”, Spielberg extended his mise en scène from land and highways (“Duel”, “Sugarland Express”) to the water, which has more plastic and abstract qualities. This shooting star anticipates Spielberg’s extraterrestrial endeavors, so movies like “E.T.”, “Close Encounters” and some of his more pessimistic ’00′s films like “War of Worlds”.
    For anyone interested, I wrote more about Spielberg here : http://torontofilmreview.blogspot.ca/2012/07/spielberg-spielberg-spielberg.html

  • Richard Cady

    I think I remember reading somewhere that Spielberg includes a shooting star in all his movies – like Hitchcock’s cameos or Bertolucci’s tangos.

  • Yes, shooting stars are Spielberg’s “Hitchcock cameo,” though I haven’t followed them through all his films. (You could always see it in JAWS, by the way; it rather calls attention to itself.)

    A fine essay. But while JAWS (and STAR WARS) may have spelled the end for sex in the New Hollywood, sex had no place in JAWS, and those silly scenes from the book (which was only so-so to begin with) were wisely left unfilmed–not that I didn’t enjoy reading them when I was 10. After the success of the Susann novels I think every mass-marketed book in the 70s had to have sex scenes in it, whether they fit or not.

  • D. K. Holm

    Except for the sex scene near the end of Munich, Spielberg’s films seem, like Welles’s finished works, mostly sex free.

  • alex

    Seems to me that JAWS packs one of the most powerful packages of jolts of adrenalin (not to be blocked by subliminal taste inhibitors such as might totally prevent any experience at all – as with such ultra-trash asSAW) in film history – right up there with aliens

    Going more high brow isn’t JAWS a supreme reaiization of the neo-Thomas reading of the Kantian noumena as the already-out-there-now-really?

    NOT to say that JAWS was not one historic kiss if death to the grand old neo-lit narrative cinema.

  • David Boxwell

    Instead of “going to the pictures”, you now went to an “event.” Feh.

  • Oliver_C

    There were sex scenes in the original ‘Jaws’ novel? All I recall reading is one of the characters on the boat inaccurately bellowing “I can see your cock, you bastard!” in response to glimpsing the creature’s underbelly.

  • As I recall Ellen Brody masturbates to the thought of having an affair with Hooper. They may even “do it.” (Our host may have read the novel more recently than I did, in 1975.) Imagine Richard Dreyfuss and Lorraine Gary playing these scenes. The New Hollywood was better off. (Around the same time Dreyfuss starred in the X-rated INSERTS, but his impotent director character doesn’t get all that much action.)

  • Barry Putterman

    Regarding Cody Jarrett’s plan to use the truck in WHITE HEAT: “We could all benefit from a closer study of classical literature.” – The Trader

    Regarding “The Bobbsey Twins at Camp Wahoo”: “Ya can’t beat the classics, I always say.” – Bullwinkle J. Moose

  • David Cohen

    About one point in the column:

    I don’t about the communities Spielberg grew up in Arizona and California, but the suburbs where he lived in New Jersey had actually been around for a good long while – it was named for Elizabeth Haddon, protagonist of a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem and dates back to her time. It was also home to the nicest theater I got to go to when I was a kid, the Westmont, which would have been the best place in the South Jersey area to see JAWS back in 1975. The theater, unfortunately, has not survived.

  • That’s one of the funniest film posters ever.
    Raymond Friedgen sounds like an auteur!

    I had a pet turtle as a kid. And scratched a giant tortoise under the chin at the Miami zoo (He could have bitten me, but he seemed to love it!) Consequently, a documentary film about a man killing turtles, whales etc might not be my beau ideal.

    My parents’ idol as kids was Frank Buck, whose motto was “Bring em back alive”. He captured living specimens for zoos, just like HATARI. This sort of non-violent daredevil was much bigger with youth in the 1930′s than Capt. Wallace Casewell.

  • alex

    As I recall a couple of the sharks sudden chomps in JAWS qualify as historic adrenalin jolts.

    I view these not as mere takeoff points for burlesques like PIRANHA but a ratchetting-up points in the history of action schlock innovation.

    Some key precedents:
    Mcqueen’s car leaved the ground atop a San fran hill top in Bullit
    Bank Guy gets it in the eye (glass) in first getaway in B&C.
    first zombie lungeandchomp in NOTLD

  • alex

    JAWS followups:
    Alien pop out ofabdomin in ALIEN
    First Alien attacks In ALIENS
    Poolroom chompfest in NEAR DARK.

    Got any landmarks/favorites of your own?

  • jbryant

    As I mentioned a few threads back, I think, the first jolt I remember is Mrs. Bates’ chair turning around in the basement, with the swinging light bulb.

    I first saw JAWS during its original release. I was spending the summer in Florida, near the beach. I saw it with my little cousin, who just about tore my arm out of the socket when the corpse popped out of the sunken boat. For some reason, I didn’t make it back to the beach the rest of the summer.

  • Steve Elworth

    The corpse popping out of the sunken boat gave me a real thrill the first time I saw it falling out of my chair. I was 19 and a knowledgable film student.

  • Noel Vera

    Jaws was fun, but in the man vs. nature genre I much prefer The Birds.

  • My favorite jolts in the cinema were someone else’s: the guy next to me at MULHOLLAND DR. had a big reaction to the Winkies/dumpster scene. Also, when VERTIGO played a week ago at the Museum of the Moving Image, the audience (well, first one girl, then almost everyone) let out a shriek when the “phantom” appears at the end. Quite electrifying, even if I shared in the experience only vicariously.

  • Hey, wanted to comment on the Times article, I thought quite insightful. I’ve always thought of Jaws as the turning point in cinema in the 70s, but never saw it as the desexualizing turning point. I read the book at age 13 with a feverish capacity in two sittings one day. I remember the affair was excised from the film and couldn’t piece why at the time. The neutering of cinema…having watched Deer Hunter two nights ago I was impressed at the focus on triangulated love, but Deer Hunter is not a whopping big action-adventure chase movie. The roller coasters became more scary, and safer, all at the same time. I would connect to that the idea of television: play the least offensive stuff to the widest possible audience for maximum return on investment. Building consensus reality by getting the most people to take your view, makes you rich. I like Jaws because it has that 70s flavor and the Woody wisecracks, and great cast. Last time I saw it I was surprised at the locations and the crowd scenes, very naturalistic. Loved the satiric take on beaches and holiday towns. Looking forward to the blu ray, sexlessness notwithstanding. There’s always Godard. Best, Tom

  • Peter Henne

    Jaime, I saw a very similar thing happen once at a VERTIGO screening at the Los Feliz Theatre, on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. A young woman sitting in the front row shrieked and ran out a side exit at the final event of the film. It was kind of understandable to me. The first time I saw the film, at the New Beverly, I didn’t leave my seat for several minutes after it was over. It felt like the earth I walk on and take for granted had given way.

  • Alex

    THE BIRDS is a great movie, a great movie, among other things, along the surrealist and man-and-nature lines discussed by Robin Wood.

    JAWS ain’t no great film unless one jimmies up it category –as,say,juvenile action film or innovation in the evolution of the adrenaline film’s evolution toward more and more effective adrenaline porn. But I do think thee are scenes in JAWS that deliver consideraably more jolt than any of THE BIRDS’ excellent surprise bird attacks.

  • Alex

    Fun jolts in films i’d not much praise are some of the worm attack’s in TREMORS: More than once did they make me raise my legs in fright as if at assaults from the cineplex floor.

  • @D. K. Holm: There’s at least a few other notable sex scenes in Spielberg’s work. The overwrought one at the end of Munich is supposed to be in contrast to the scene in the beginning when Bana is making love to his pregnant wife, a very arch but clever family portrait. The scene in Catch Me If You Can when Leo puts the necklace on the girl who goes from saying “No, no, you can’t” to saying “Yes, yes, yes!” in a cut to a hotel room. Then there’s the one between Oskar Schindler and his wife that gets history teachers in trouble.

  • Robert Garrick

    Looking back on “Jaws” from our 2012 vantage point, it can seem almost minor. But it was a pretty big deal at the time.

    First of all, it was the highest grossing film ever in nonconstant dollars, a record that had been held earlier in the 1970s by “The Exorcist” and also (a few years before) by “The Godfather.” (Back then the dollar was more stable, and we didn’t get a new box-office champ every month as we do now.) All three films had been huge cultural events and commercial sensations, made by three extremely promising young directors. It felt like we were in the middle of a great period for film. In retrospect, I believe that was true. Movies still mattered, as someone once said.

    Second, “Jaws” was Spielberg’s coming-out film. In 1975 his name was known only to film junkies for things like “Duel” (1971) and “Sugarland Express” (1974). With “Jaws” he became, overnight, a really big deal, and he appeared to have great filmmaking chops and potential. To me, that potential has not been realized. I still think “Jaws” might be his best film. I think it’s a complete, albeit modest, success. A while back on this site I mentioned that Andrew Sarris once said that Spielberg had made one masterpiece, and that was “Empire of the Sun” (1987).

    Third and finally, “Jaws” was one of those rare horror films that captured a wide audience and that had a huge impact on society. “Psycho” was certainly one, with its shower scene, and so was “The Exorcist.” “Jaws” had that brilliant opening scene with the drunken college student, and people have never felt the same about the ocean since. It really did make a difference, in my life and in the lives of millions of others. It might even have saved my life, because I once came within about ten feet of bumping into a frenzied shark at a Delaware beach, and if I hadn’t been slightly paranoid and looking around for fins in the water (two of which I saw, in time to get out of the way) I might have lost a chunk of something. This shark was only about four feet long, but that’s big enough to do some damage.

  • Noel Vera

    Jolts are a one-time only thing. I keep watching that jungle gym scene in The Birds over and over again, and I still love the slow build.

  • Noel Vera

    I once made the argument that The Birds is Hitchcock’s most metaphysical film–the one where the agent of change and source of conflict isn’t some human, no matter how despicable…

  • Alex

    I haven’t been stressing joltys as an aesthetic value or accomplishment but as key to the adrenalin thriller that most centrally seeks to acts on physiology in the manner of roller coasters, some games and porn and is, think, at the heart of contemporary U.S. commercial film making (though it can like FRENCH CONNECTION,LIENS, TERMINATOR, DIE HARD,and recently, RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES — and, for some, THE EXORCIST) have some aesthetic value.

    Oh, yeah, the jungle gym scene in THE BIRDS is great but it does have a “slow build” that I think weakens its pure shock to the system, as does, I think, the elaborate virtuosity of PSYCHO’s slower slaying diffuse its adrenaline kick. Maybe Det. Milton Arbogast’s sudden stairway slaying qualifies as an historic adrenalin kick. (For me the best stuff in PSYCHO is the slow, non-violent narration of Marion’s theft and flight and her long model conversation with Bates.)

  • Barry Putterman

    It should be noted that the “slow build” is a standard strategy towards producing the kind of “jolts” under discussion here. particularly in horror films. It can be used either to lull the audience into a false sense of security or to prolong the tension for what the audience knows is to come. I suppose that the most universally recognized instance of this currently is the ending of De Palma’s CARRIE.

  • Alex

    Well, a build up to “prolong the tension for what the audience knows is to come” pretty much captures Hitchcock’s own articulation of suspense, but I don’t see that it augments rather than diffuses “jolts.” Lulling an auduience into a false sense of security help cann indeed set up an audience for a jolt, but doesn’t need much building than allowing for the proverbial calm before the unexpected “BOO!” does.

    The scene in “The Man Who Knew Too Much” in which the gun of Hank’s would-be killer appears just after Mrs. Drayton has relieved much of our anxiety about Hank’s fate does involve a nicely structured little build up right into a pretty fair jolt.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well Alex, if you will get your nose out of Hitchcock for a moment since he, like I, is not much interested in the kind of “jolts” you are talking about anyway, and took a look at horror movies, such as CARRIE, the point might become a bit clearer to you.

  • Nicolas

    The concept of “jolt” is very interesting, I have been watching John Ford’s films lately, and you can almost state that “jolt”, which was once used in horror or B movies, suddenly has become a new “canon” in how audience, and even some film commentators, acknowledge the fact that someone is directing a film. The jolt becomes a pure mechanical effect that is considered by some as a definite proof of the art of directing. I think Spielberg had no idea of he mpact JAWS would have on how films get sold, marketed and shown. He only wanted to end a nightmarish shoot and deliver a film that would not hamper his future as a director. The fact hat he went on directing CLOSE ENCOUNTERS rint after JAWS shows that he had no intention of keeping up with the “raison d’etre” of JAWS. Speaking of “jolts” moments, I was scared almost to death at the reaction shot which reveals the Ghost of Dr Mabuse in the office scene in TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE. The character reads notes by Mabuse on crime and terror, then hears his voice whispers the text, closes his eyes, opens them, in awe. Dave , would you say that directors like Paul Leni, Tod Browning, and later William Castle initiated the tradition of “jolt” ? We should add since we mentioned it, the “jolt” moment in EXORCIST when Linda Blair’s head turns full circle.

  • Jaime, Peter Henne (August 17, 2012 at 2:24 pm): VERTIGO gets a strong audience reaction in our Cinema Orion, as well. In an especially intensive screening when the final strains of Bernard Herrmann’s music had faded and the lights had come on the audience remained in their seats in awe for a while before anyone stood up.

    I have always admired JAWS. To pick up references mentioned by Dave: I like the Melvillean approach, the mythical connotations of the sea and its creatures and the man vs. nature themes. Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People has provided a basic concept for many disaster movies (since when?): because of the greed of the town’s authorities and businessmen people are not warned about the danger of disaster. Among the original contributions of Steven Spielberg are his irresistible sense of action, adventure, community, and humour. JAWS also almost smells of the sea. It’s also a great scope film, as I realized when I happened to glance at a tv transmission that was pan-and-scanned… terrible.

    To continue the Nordic chain inspired by Harriet Andersson as Monika: Susan Backlinie, the poster woman of JAWS, is memorable in her brief performance, a bit like Gary Cooper in WINGS. Skinny dipping is a very Nordic thing to do, but in Nordic countries there is nothing more dangerous than pikes in the water. The stark poetry of JAWS is about life vs. death, and Susan Backlinie conveys the life force unforgettably.

  • David Cohen

    speaking of jolts … the current DIARY OF A WIMPY KID movie has a cheap little shock that jolted my 4-year-old out of his seat and so scared a little girl in the audience that she had to leave the theater. That jolt, presumably, was meant to be part of the sense of being broadly and totally entertained in a movie that otherwise is NOT scary (or, for that matter, actually very entertaining).

    Years and years ago, when I saw David Cronenberg’s version of THE FLY there was something so terrifying that it caused a woman to run screaming up the aisle. Afterward, I heard that she was still running when she hit the lobby and ended up crashing full-speed into the velvet ropes. For the life of me, can’t remember what the scene was.

  • When my Mother took us kids to see Wait Until Dark (1967), she got so frightened at the “jolts” that she grabbed the elbows of her two sons on either side, and dug in with her long fingernails. It became a family joke – my brother was kidding her decades later that he didn’t want to sit next to her in any scary movies :)
    *
    Are there many jolts at all in pre-1967 realistic dramas, soap operas, Westerns, most mysteries? One recalls very few.
    The only jolt in Joseph H. Lewis is in the B-Western TEXAS STAGECOACH (1940). IIRC, a sliding door in a barn suddenly springs open, and out ride a troupe of horsemen. It is very startling.
    I don’t recall anything like this in other Lewis or other Westerns as a whole.

    Lewis has some mildly startling explosions. A fireball is so unexpected in THE VINDICATORS (1965) (pilot of BRANDED), that one suspects the folks in Hollywood have been studying Resnais. It is not a jolt or a shock, but it seems deliriously gratuitous. It has a distinctly New Wave feel.

    Symphony No. 94 (Haydn) (1791) has a BIG jolt!

  • Johan Andreasson

    I got quite a jolt the first time I saw the scene in THE SEARCHERS where Ethan shoots the corpse of a Comanche in his eyes so that his spirit will not be able to cross over.

  • Backlinie spoofed her role in Spielberg’s 1941.

    When the head popped out of the sunken boat in JAWS my Aunt Barbara threw her soda high up in the air, dousing a good chunk of the theater. Kind of a Coke twist on Universal’s then-current Sensurround.

    An example of a slow-burn jolt is THE SIXTH SENSE, where the audience is kept in the dark about what’s going on until that final “aha!” moment. Trouble was I figured it out early on (which I rarely do) so I was irritated waiting for everyone else to catch up. Watching it again I found it to be artfully done.

    For me THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is nothing but jolts, primal fear from severed head to severed toe.

  • A scene that never fails to startle audiences is the unexpected re-entrance of Greer Garson later in the film RANDOM HARVEST (Mervyn LeRoy, 1942). It is not scary at all. But it is completely unexpected, and in a surprising context. Audiences tend to get excited. It takes viewers a few moments before they figure out what is going on. The scene also has elements of humor.

    This is a startling moment in a film that is totally genteel, ultra-refined and non-scary.

  • Peter Henne

    http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/20/showbiz/obit-tony-scott/index.html?hpt=hp_c1

    This is a little spooky to me. I drove across the Vincent-Thomas Bridge yesterday, to go to a destination which, as it turned out, I couldn’t reach because of a special event going on that crowded the area. I considered going back today, Sunday, at noon, which would mean crossing the bridge all over again at about 12:10, but decided it could wait and settled in reading for a Sunday off.

  • Robert Garrick

    I hesitate to extend the “jolt” discussion, but a few important ones are still missing:

    1. The moment in David Lean’s “Great Expectations” (1946) when young Pip is running through the graveyard and suddenly encounters Finlay Currie.

    2. The moment in William Castle’s “House on Haunted Hill” (1959) when Carolyn Craig stands up in a dark passageway and suddenly encounters Leona Anderson. (This, for me, is the greatest “jolt” in the history of the cinema. It still has the power to make uninitiates jump and scream.)

    3. The moment in Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” (1963) when Julie Harris, after a long, delirious ascent up a teetering spiral staircase, suddenly encounters Lois Maxwell.

    4. The moment in Terence Young’s “Wait Until Dark” (1967) when Alan Arkin, after being stabbed by Audrey Hepburn and presumably killed, suddenly leaps horizontally through a darkened room. This was easily the biggest scream of the 1960s. (It’s a cliche now: We think the villain is dead, but he keeps coming back, again and again and again. We expect it these days. But back in 1967, we didn’t expect it, and it was artfully handled by Terence Young. Stephen King wrote that “Wait Until Dark” was the most frightening movie ever, and that Alan Arkin’s performance “was the greatest evocation of screen villainy.”)

    In general, Barry’s two quick submissions, above, are the most trenchant comments in this thread. “Jolts” are not necessarily the stuff of great cinema. This is a little bit like a discussion of who wore the best-looking suit in the history of the cinema. But we started this and we should finish it.

    Barry also characterizes jolts correctly. A “jolt” will make a good portion of an audience jump in their seats, and scream. It’s a shock, generally coming after a period of inaction, during which the audience may or may not suspect that they’re being set up.

    And Barry is right about “Carrie.” I don’t care for that scene at all, but he’s right about it being the most famous “jolt” these days.

    The only possible “jolt” in “The Birds,” and it’s a good one, is the jump cut to the pecked-out eyes of Jessica Tandy’s neighbor, whom she discovers in his disheveled house. There are many other shocking scenes in the film, but they’re not jolts.

    It takes some skill to construct a good jolt. Modern horror directors, like Wes Craven, have lost this skill; they push too hard.

  • john warthen

    In the lobby of my south-Georgia hometown’s Main St. single-screen theater is a enlarged pair of photographs preserved from 1968– a nearly full-house audience just-before and just-after Arkin’s “horizontal leap” in WAIT UNTIL DARK. A full spectrum of the people I grew up with, mostly recovered from the jolt and looking mighty happy to be there.

  • Noel Vera

    ” at the heart of contemporary U.S. commercial film making”

    Jolts are good for a single viewing. Slow burns I say last as often as you watch it.

  • Jonah

    It seems that people are mixing up, perhaps suggestively, several different kinds of “jolts.”

    When I think of jolts in much contemporary cinema, many of them invoke the startle response. I think that’s what Robert Garrick is evoking above.

    This is a pre-cognitive response. It is involuntary. It can respond to sudden changes in the visual or auditory spectrums. No doubt filmmakers can and have made use of this, from Hitchcock to Uwe Boll. I don’t know enough about how the startle response interacts with higher-order cognition, which would be essential for understanding whether filmmakers can harness it to larger, more complex narrative patterns. That is, can a diminished or heightened startle response be conditioned by a film? Does an instance of this response put us in a “mood” (a less discrete, more broadly valenced, more sustained emotional state) in which we are more or less sensitive to other kinds of stimuli?

    Certainly “The Dark Knight” gets many of its effects through sheer discontinuities, often of sound. These seem designed to rivet you to the screen, creating (as Larry Kart described) a state of constant anxiety and threat. I admit that the first time I saw the film, this was effective, and it wasn’t until after I left the theater (or, more precisely, at some point during the hokey climax) that I could take a step pack and dismantle the film, separating its “searing” techniques from its awkward exposition and fundamental incoherence.

    Anyhow, I think some people are talking about more intellectual “jolts”–moments of recognition or revelation, out-of-character behavior, etc. It’s possible that filmmakers often yoke one kind of jolt to another, but they are distinguishable.

  • >Jolts are good for a single viewing. Slow burns I say last as often as you watch it.

    Most near every jolt I can think of has a set-up in front of it: Arbogast doesn’t START at the top of the stairs, after all. There’s also Amy Irving’s slo-mo walk to Carrie’s grave, Dreyfus fooling around with the shark tooth before Ben Gardner’s head appears (the sting Williams put in for this moment sounds incredible on the new Blu-Ray); Hepburn has the lingering moment where she moves across the room that makes you think Arkin is really dead in Wait Until Dark; etc.

    Even the example you use, Noel, is kind of a weird one because it has its own jolt, and it comes at the very top of the scene: 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.

  • @Peter – yes, I had something of the same experience. I’d already seen VERTIGO countless times to date – and the MOMI’s presentation wasn’t even the best of the lot, with its degraded print and improper masking – but I found it even more devastating than ever before. When Scottie recognizes the necklace, I was so crushed, I almost passed out.

    Concerning a different kind of movie, and a different kind of jolt, I recall that a certain disclosure (of good tidings) in Ang Lee’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995) being geared towards maximum shock effect. Perhaps the story is apocryphal, but I recall a report of a woman who was so taken aback by the scene, which I will not spoil, that she promptly suffered a heart attack. I’m afraid I can’t uncover any news story to verify this, so it may only be an urban legend.

    Donald Sutherland is involved in at least four major shock moments in 1970s cinema – two in Bertolucci’s 1900 alone.

    But some are rightly raising the issue of certain movie effects that aren’t necessarily “jolts,” in that they aren’t over and done with in an instant, but have a visceral, grinding effect on the viewer, lasting up to several seconds. A key scene in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s PULSE (the ghost that trips) is one, and so is the scene aboard the tripod in Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS. Both scenes are free of “jolts” but hold the audience, pinned, as with electricity.

  • By the way, I assume the sad news about Tony Scott has reached these shores. I’m sure we are of mixed feelings feelings about Mr. Scott’s output (I hold some of his films in much higher esteem than others), but I think his passing is noteworthy on this board: he was an auteur, for good or ill, and he is no more.

  • Robert Garrick

    In the “what is the world coming to?” department, I noticed that TCM showed a flat, awful-looking copy of “A Hatful of Rain” (1957) last night.

    It’s an exceedingly rare film these days, and it’s tedious. But a perfect scope copy exists. I saw this film a few years back in Palm Springs, at the annual noir festival there, on a huge screen. I thought the film was silly, but I loved the black-and-white scope copy, with the big ’50s stereo sound.

    This is notable only because TCM normally does such a good job of showing things correctly.

    In other media news, it’s like a dagger to my heart every time I look at the schedule for the Museum of the Moving Image and notice that they’re showing yet another film in projected video. I’m sorry, but I’m not ready to accept this yet. They’ve got a video copy of “The Searchers” scheduled right now.

    They still show film–they recently screened a “vintage Technicolor print” of “Vertigo,” meaning pre-restoration. If someone attended, I wonder how close they got to VistaVision. We had this discussion a few years back–I don’t think anyone is set up to show true VistaVision anymore. (“The Searchers” is VistaVision too, of course. VistaVision chose its titles well.)

    Portable media of all kinds (books, magazines, film) is dying and I’m not happy about it.

  • Robert, regarding the VERTIGO print that showed at MOMI, I would like nothing more than to speak with authority as to how close it came to a right, proper VistaVision/IB Technicolor presentation, but I lack the experience to do so. I can complain, however, about the masking, which was far too tight (it was almost – no exaggeration – “irected b // lfred Hitchcoc”), and the print, which was degraded to the point that proper focus in parts of the image was impossible. Obviously the sound was pre-restoration, but I have never been offended by Robert Harris’s tinkering – it’s not as bad as the added foley effects in MURDER!, but I’ve grown more critical about such things in recent years.

    I have mixed feelings about the death of film. I will not pay to see a projected video, if it’s a library title, although I’ve seen countless new releases in DLP, DCP, and so on. Having said that, I find myself growing sensitive to the un-pleasantries of repertory audiences, to the point that choosing between that and a good Blu-ray in the comfort of my own home is no choice at all. I think this makes me a heretic – so be it.

    I’ve been writing DVD and Blu-ray reviews for over a year now, and I’ve come across good, bad, and ugly specimens of the high-definition format. Different source materials react to Blu-ray mastering differently. Low-res formats like 16mm and 8mm do well, if the process is done carefully. Super 16 is hit or miss: Todd Haynes shot MILDRED PIERCE in Super 16, and that Blu-ray is not as strong as, say, Kino’s disc for GANJA & HESS, even though the materials for the former are flawless, the latter, deeply degraded.

    One format syncs up with Blu-ray beautifully – VistaVision. The so-so disc for Nicholas Ray’s RUN FOR COVER, and the excellent disc for TO CATCH A THIEF are simply wonderful, the kind of depth you could fall into. Well, I guess that brings us around to VERTIGO once more.

  • I have never seen a really good print of VERTIGO, and the best colour experience I have of it stems from a 16 mm print that was available in Berlin when VERTIGO was not yet officially re-released. There are many similar thought-provoking cases among the top ten films, including TOKYO STORY.

    I was thinking about VERTIGO a few days ago when I visited a concert performance of Wagner’s TRISTAN AND ISOLDE (a cool, intellectual interpretation by conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen). The Tristan chord creates a suspense that lasts during the five hours of the performance, until there is a release in the Liebestod. There is a beautiful hommage to Wagner in Bernard Herrmann’s VERTIGO score, and there is an affinity in the Tristan chord to the Hitchcockian sound of suspense even more generally. The Wagnerian ending to VERTIGO would be that Scottie joins Madeleine in Liebestod, as we are free to imagine.

  • Larry Kart

    Surely there are some significant “jolts” in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN?

  • A jolt I experienced watching John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946): when Virgil is leaving the Clanton’s ranch and he suddenly gets shot in the back.