Been & Going

[Why Watch This? Retro Movie Reviews] Jaws

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The cynical among you may scoff at my choice of Steven Speilberg’s Jaws (1975) as the best 4th of July movie ever. So let me appeal to the cynics and say that in a world where a Google search for “best patriotic movies” comes up with:

  • Independence Day– ok, I guess, Will Smith kills aliens, the White House gets blowed up, yay America!
  • I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy– James Cagney tap dancing in tight pants. USA! USA!
  • 1776– William Daniels plays John Adams and Ken Howard plays Thomas Jefferson. They sing a lot. Hmmm, god bless America?
  • The Patriot– sorry, I will no longer, ever, ever, ever, watch another cheesy Mel Gibson movie. Sorry, nope. And, btw Google, dude’s Australian.
  • Then there is a bunch of movies about war and stuff. Yeah, I saw Saving Private Ryan once. Act of Valor, that one about United Flight 93, Band of Brothers (wasn’t that a TV show?), Born on the 4th of July (I never saw this one, but isn’t it critical of America, kind of?), war movie, war movie, war movie. OK, I get it. War=Patriotism or something like that, whatever.

However, I would suggest that to whichever Google “best of” list Gods are out there, they are overlooking the best movie about the 4th of July ever made. What’s that you say? JAWS! Of course! One mean shark terrorizes a New England island village. Munch, munch, munch!chrissy

In case you don’t know the plot, here is a brief synopsis: The movie opens with our young doomed Chrissy hanging out on the beach with a bunch of youngsters getting drunk. She makes eyes at a blond guy, they strip their clothes off and run toward the water. Chrissy swims out and starts to tread water. Blondie passes out at the water’s edge—typical. Anyway a truly terrifying scene unfolds where Chrissy is dragged through the water while screaming in pain until she finally disappears under the surface.mayor

Chief Brody (played by Roy Scheider) gets the missing person’s report on poor Chrissy and goes out to the beach to investigate. Chief Brody is the chief of police of Amity island, a quaint little bucolic island in New England. Think Martha’s Vineyard, cause, that’s where they filmed it and lots of the “locals” are played by actual locals. 4th of July is a big weekend for Amity island, the mayor and business owners are gearing up for the influx of tourists. The first thing we learn about Brody is he’s from New York, so an “outsider” and then we learn thatbrody at beach he hates the water. So why did he move to an island? “It’s only an island if you look at it from the water.”

They find Chrissy’s body, think it’s a shark attack, Chief Brody goes nuts closing beaches, calling the Oceanographic Institute, pulling people out of the water. But wait, Chief Brody, the rest of the town says, don’t overreact, it was jusbeach chaost a boat propeller, not a shark. You can’t close the beaches on the 4th of July. So he re-opens and then goes to the beach with his kids, cause, you know, why not? Things don’t go well, a dog and a young child get eaten. But the town, and it’s sleazy mayor played by Murray Abraham who should be commended for his blazer choices, refuse to close the beach. Chief Brody is frantic, he and Matt Hooper (played by Richard Dreyfus) from the Oceanographic Institute think it’s a Great White. They take some precautions, boats are patrolling, spotters are up in towers.

boat guyBut, you know, because it’s the way things go, it doesn’t go well. Humans can’t have hubris in the face of nature. Someone else dies (in actually my favorite shot in the movie: a guy in a boat who is trying to help Chief Brody’s son on his sailboat gets tipped over and we get our first glimpse of the shark as he eats the poor man, the shot reminds of me of a painting I used to love at the MFA in Boston called Watson and the Sharwatson and the sharkk by John Singleton) and now the town is serious about killing the damn shark. They hire Quint (played by Robert Shaw) and Brody and Hooper go out with him.

There’s a lot of spectacular stuff I’m glossing over. Quint is manic in his relentless pursuit of the shark to the point that he dooms their venture. In a famous scene we learn that Quint was a sailor on the USS Indianapolis, the one that was sunk by a torpedo and all the sailors went in to the sea where they got gobbled up by hungry tiger sharks. This gives us some insight into castQuint’s fervor. Finally Brody shoots the damn shark and life is returned to normal on good ol’ Amity Island. Side note: if you have a moment, I highly recommend the documentary about the making of Jaws that came out a few years ago. There are all sorts of great stories involving midgets, malfunctioning sharks, and drunken actors. Good stuff.

There you have it—guy fights the machine, conquers nature, restores order, all set to a kick ass soundtrack that any five year old can play on the piano. And tell me you haven’t tried.

Come on, what’s more American than being the guy who knows what’s going on but no one will listen to him so they all die and shootsultimately he proves he’s right and kills a shark. It’s practically a brief summary of the Declaration of Independence right there. Thomas Jefferson is all like “Being ruled by Britain stinks!” and the rest of America is all like: “Nah, it’s ok, we don’t mind paying taxes and stuff.” People die, more people die, and then it’s like, “Wait a second, being ruled by Britain does stink!” And then well, you know what happens next: Thomas Jefferson kills a shark!

tjI’ve been criticized in the past about my cursory attention to history, so I would caution any youngsters out there from providing this answer on their next history test about the American Revolution. But, I stand by the gist of what I’m saying. Sharks that eat hippie chicks, young boys and dogs named Pippin deserve to die. It’s the American way.