JAWS (AFI #56)

April 23, 2011 at 3:56 pm (AFI Top 100 in 100 Days)

It’s safe to say that most people of my generation have seen “JAWS.” I saw it when our family first got cable TV in 1978 and I was too scared to take a bath in the bathroom by myself for weeks afterward. The score alone is one of the most recognizable in film history.

Re-visiting “JAWS” as a film student is an unexpectedly fascinating exercise. The editing is mind-blowingly good. Once you’re watching the film for other than enjoyment, you can tell by looking closely which scenes were done in a pool, and which in a bay, and which actually out in the ocean. I couldn’t wait to see the list of “filmed at” locations in the credits, only to be disappointed because in 1975, they didn’t do the kind of long, specific credits we’re used to these days.

Some of the shots, obviously, had to be taken while on a boat, and considering that Spielberg would have been shooting this on 16mm, it’s pretty impressive to think about some dude up on the poop deck of a boat with a 35mm camera. Those things are huge and heavy, and, it’s awfully windy in a place like that. You can tell by watching closely which shots happened from another boat, as opposed to on a stationery dock with a boat close by. This is a film I’d love to see the shot list and production schedule for.

It occurred to me that one scene had to have constituted either one of the most fun, or the most aggravating, shoots ever. “OK, I’m gonna wait another minute for all of you to get situated and play in the water. When I blow this whistle, I need everyone to scream, run out of the water, and act like there’s a shark chasing you.”

My first college class in film taught that “you should always cut during action.” Spielberg, I noticed, doesn’t do that in “JAWS.” Spielberg allows the main action to take place and the actors to leave the frame, continuing in conversation, as the shot lingers on items of note. I thought it worked well. Spielberg helmed “JAWS,” his second major feature which is considered the first summer blockbuster, 20 years before going back and getting his degree in film. I will now need to go watch something he made after 1995 to see whether he changed this convention or not.

So, again to our final question: Does “JAWS” belong on the AFI list? Absofrickinlutely. And probably higher than #56.

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