Posts from 20th September 2004

Sep 04

FT Top 100 Films 27: JAWS

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FT Top 100 Films
27: JAWS

There are probably a lot of people of my generation who have never seen Jaws. It was true of me until a couple of years ago. It was a horror movie after all, a bloody shark slasher, so it was always on TV too late for me to see it in the early eighties. And then it became the late eighties, I was allowed to stay up late, but why would I watch Jaws? Its that shark movie. I had seen Jaws 3D and its hokey rubbish effect did not work on television. Everyone knows what happens in Jaws, there’s a shark, and it is hard to kill. And it looks a bit rubbery, just like the one in the Universal Studios tour*. High concept = small idea = no need to see it.

And then I saw it.

Privileged to see it on the big screen (as big as the ICA gets) the films deft handling of suspense it absolutely masterful. How doe sit do this? By using a pissed off bored police chief who could not really care less. By drafting in a keen shark expert who has absolutely no experience. And getting in a salty sea dog, in it for the money, dead set of destruction. Cliches, possibly, but fully rounded – unlike the shark.

There is a fantastic sequence in the film where Roy Scheider is at home, trying to work out what to do. He is a sleepy town police chief, not a high seas adventurer, and he is pretty sure that he does not even have juristiction over the sea. And yet the town is going crazy, the mayor is nuts and Scheider will be up for re-election. His job is out of his hands. Suddenly his son comes in, worried, and Scheider just gets it. This is a film about mans place in the natural world, about surpemacy and how everything is turned upside-down by a sudden change in this balance. Like The Birds, like other nature attacks films, this is unsettling and more psychologically troublesome than some random stalker. Unlike The Birds however, mans hubris plays a role in Jaws. Water is not our domain, we are not built for it, and the safest solution is literally to stay out of it. But we all want to swim, play on our lilos. The killer fact in Jaws is that most of its deaths are due to recreation (especially the purient shark at the beginning anti this fucking about in his ocean). For all the fortuitous psychological associations with “the underneath” the “repressed” and so on, this shark wants to stop us having fun. And in a pampered, Western way, we are not going to let that happen.

Alone in the crowd (for once)

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Alone in the crowd (for once) — it was interesting, finally seeing Mike Judge’s Office Space for the first time the other week, and I actually talk more about my reaction to the film over on ILE. Here, though, I want to talk about something else — for the most part, the films I’ve seen in theaters in recent years have been ones where I’m already well inculcated in a cult of appreciation or am among others who want to be similarly sold though none of us have seen the film yet (in the case of The Lord of the Rings, we were extremely happy souls). But this was the first time in a LONG time I was what seemed like the only one who didn’t know what was going on among a crowd of true believers.

I’m sure there were others there on the showing this past Wednesday who hadn’t seen it yet, in fact I think there was at least one other in my large group of friends who went. But as soon as we entered the theater with a minute to go and saw the place was just PACKED — none of the films we had seen earlier in this irregular revival series had garnered anywhere near this huge a crowd — it was clear that something was well in place in terms of continual rewatchings and deep and abiding appreciation. I can sympathize, but since I was coming in cold, it was oddly disconcerting nonetheless.

But I enjoyed the trappings all around me — someone had taken the trouble to print up a huge sign that was slightly hanging from the bottom of the screen that said “IS THIS GOOD FOR THE COMPANY?” and I swiftly guessed this was something to do with the film, a guess that proved right. Then there was the giveaway of red Swingline staplers — even I knew what that represented, and those who won were happy as clams. And then of course during the film itself there were the expected breakings out of cascading anticipatory laughter as one setpiece or line or another approached.

In some ways I enjoyed the experience as much as the film, possibly even more so (as I muttered in my post, I liked but didn’t necessarily love the film, though I agree it’s often a treat). It was nice to smile and observe and consider both screen and audience, a handy little object lesson in the workings of what can be meant by the term ‘cult classic.’