Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Nice Tribute to Steven Spielberg

James Wolcott talks about Steven Spielberg and then reprints a piece of Tom Shone's book How Hollywood Learned To Stop Worrying and Loved The Summer.

Tom Shone:

What was so different about Jaws? In one sense, nothing at all. “This is Universal’s extraordinary motion picture version of Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel....” intoned the trailers, with the sort of silver-platter flourish that now seems as quaint as three-colour disco lights: they thought Benchley was the attraction? The book? Benchley’s novel was that most curious of seventies artefacts: the misanthropic best-seller, full of such loathing for the common herd, you wonder why on earth the common herd bothered with the thing: “They had no body odour,” notes police chief Benchley of the bathers he watches over. “When they sweated, the girls smelled faintly of perfume; the boys smelled simply clean. None of which is to say that they were either stupid or evil...” Peter Benchley, please step forward and accept the 1975 People’s Friend award! Spielberg cut out the sourpuss posturings and gave the part of Brody to Roy Scheider, telling him “I don’t want to feel that you could ever kill that shark.” Charlton Heston had wanted the part, but as Spielberg’s screenwriter, Carl Gottleib pointed out, Heston had just saved a jetliner in Airport 75 and he was going to save Los Angeles in Earthquake, so “it just didn’t seem right for him to be wasting his time with a little New England community.” The blockbuster would eventually become synonymous with the effortless accomplishments of singular superheroes, but Jaws, from the outset, was an exercise in dramatic downsizing, attuned to the scruffy, low-slung heroism of ordinary men, and engaging in pitched battle with just a single shark, which kills only four people in the entire movie — and not at a single stroke, like an earthquake, but in four separate courses, from soup to nuts. It was, in other words, a repeat offender, in whom Spielberg had found a perfect reflection of his own restlessly kinetic instincts as a director. When the Orca is going at full throttle to catch up with the shark, Richard Dreyfuss’s admiring head shake of disbelief is entirely genuine: “fast fish!”

You'll definitely want to read it all-just scroll down past the first entry:


Todd Mason said...

Pfeh. The film that convinced Spielberg and everyone around him that kineticism was enough. Most of the blockbusters since make a big deal of how much it's costing the doughty heroes, even when they are supernaturally gifted. How convincingly is another matter. At least Heston's ham isn't present in JAWS. Not sure I see the quoted passage from Benchley as quite up to Belloc in the misanthropy scale.

pattinase (abbott) said...

There are few movies as exciting as this one was at the time although I think it ruined summer movies forever. I saw trailers for one clearly based on JAWS and it looked just dreadful-PIRANHA.

Todd Mason said...

Patti, I'll have to respectfully disagree. There were plenty of films more exciting than JAWS, even if most of the ones that come to mind from the era actually predate it by at least several years: BULLITT, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE STING, THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (a contemporary), DOG DAY AFTERNOON (another)...hell, VANISHING POINT. DEATH RACE 2000. I liked JAWS at the time, and it is Spielberg's best film I've seen, but it doesn't hold up, any more then DUEL does...and Dennis Weaver is better in DUEL than even the talented trio are in JAWS. Spielberg's trademark plastic dumb is already starting to make itself obvious in this film.

Juri said...

And hey, PIRANHA was written by John Sayles. It really isn't all that bad.

Todd: I've always thought DUEL is my favourite Spielberg, which isn't much, but I really like it and find it very watchable.