Fast Fish

Last Saturday, June 20th, was not only Father’s Day, and the birthday of one of my oldest and closest friends, but also the 35th anniversary of the release of JAWS, otherwise known as the second greatest movie ever made.

Everyone knows this poster

Of course when JAWS was released in the summer of 1975, my family saw it in the theaters, Dad being an avid fisherman as well as a movie buff. It seemed like the perfect movie for him. We even had the Peter Benchley novel the movie was based on, which my Mom liked but I never read until later in life after getting the laserdisc set as a gift (more on that later). Seeing the movie with another family that lived around the corner from us in scenic Maspeth, NY, I vividly remember ducking under the seat when Alex Kintner was killed on the raft, something I would never do today. I guess seeing The Omen at the ripe old age of 9 the following year cured me of that kind of reaction.

Later in the summer I saw JAWS again with my Dad, this time double billed with the Robert Redford drama The Great Waldo Pepper, a good little time-killer. But obviously we weren’t there to see Mr. Redford fly a biplane.

Mmmmm....Chum.....

So many memories and impressions of JAWS….To me, it’s still Steven Spielberg’s best film. I love the tracking shot where Quint is “introduced” during the town meeting, panning up to him at the chalkboard. Subtle, yet classic.

So many terrific lines, from the overly-quoted “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” to the TV sign off “That’s some bad hat, Harry” to the ominous “I’ll never put on a life jacket again”. But my fave (which my daughter and I like to do every once in a while) is “It’s a Tiger shark.” “A whuuuut?” “Tiger shark.”

So many great performances, most notably the incredibly underrated performance from Roy Scheider as Brody. Underrated in that it’s not as showy as Robert Shaw’s Quint or as loud as Richard Drefyuss’ Hooper, but at times, is twice as effective. (“It’s in the yahd, not too fah from the cah.”) The scene at the dinner table, right before Hooper arrives, with the younger Brody son (cue soft John Williams music…), is a particular fave, and is one of the first “cute kid” scenes in Spielberg’s directorial career.

Whatdya mean you don't like JAWS?

Speaking of John Williams, is there any doubt this is one of his best scores? I mean, the JAWS theme is easily one of the most iconic pieces of film music ever. And you could argue that Williams’ Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones, and possibly even Harry Potter themes deserve a spot in the Top Ten.

Williams deservedly earned an Oscar for his Score (JAWS also won well-deserved Oscars for Best Sound and Best Editing for Verna Fields). My favorite part of the score is “One Barrel Chase”, which turns a suspense movie into a rollicking sea adventure for a minute or two. I remember it was my Dad’s favorite also, and he even went so far as to record some of the music cues on cassette when JAWS was shown on TV.

All the cool kids still have Laserdiscs

I always had a fondness for JAWS, but didn’t truly appreciate its greatness until receiving the Limited Edition Universal Signature Collection Laserdisc as a gift from a dear friend who to this day knows me better than just about anyone. It’s still one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. It contains a fabulously remastered edition of the movie in THX and CAV (you laserdisc geeks know what that is), as well as a nifty, must-see two hour documentary by famed documentarian Laurent Bouzereau, plus a copy of the Benchley novel and a soundtrack CD. Yowza!

Watching this masterpiece again on laserdisc, probably in early 1996, in widescreen/letterboxed format instead of pan-and-scan (yuck) for the first time since 1975, on a 26-inch TV (hey, back then that was a decent size) vaulted it immediately to the second spot in my list of favorite movies. And it ain’t movin’ from that spot. I only wish I could have dragged my Dad over to the apartment to check it out before he passed away in November of that year.

In addition to JAWS being back in the news lately among film nuts because of the 35th anniversary, I’m also eagerly awaiting the eventual DVD/Blu-Ray release of a JAWS documentary that I’ve been hearing about for nearly two years called The Shark Is Still Working. It supposedly runs three hours….three hours on JAWS! Sign me up!

OK, I have to go, and grab my JAWS DVD from the shelf. You see, I’m in the mood for a little boat trip….

For more on this pivotal anniversary in the history of film, go here, or here, or even here, or any of the hundreds of other sites smart enough to mark the occasion.

Published in: on June 25, 2010 at 10:00 pm  Comments (9)  
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The Last in Line?

Jack Harrison, believed to be the last survivor of “The Great Escape” from Stalag Luft III in WWII (which according to the msn.com article cannot be confirmed), passed away this past Friday in his native Scotland, at the age of 97 (god bless him!).

As a camp gardener, Harrison was on the dirt disposal team, part of the crew that was responsible for getting rid of the dirt that was dug up in the multiple tunnels started in the POW camp. (Check out some cool pics and more in this article from The Sun)

Harrison was 98th in line of the planned 200 escapees. (In the film–the greatest movie ever made if I haven’t mentioned that yet today– it was 250, much to Steve McQueen’s Virgil Hilts’ amazement in a memorable scene: “250 men just walking down the street….”) Of course, Harrison’s number never came up as the men were found out at number 76. But his legacy remains as part of the greatest POW escape ever undertaken, which made for a fabulous book by Paul Brickhill (there are many other books too, of which I’ve only read the enjoyable The Longest Tunnel by Alan Burgess, but now have to read more… and more and more!) and of course, the epic, terrific, spectacular 1963 John Sturges all-star classic, my all-time favorite film.

For even more info on this story, check out today’s post from the entertaining and superbly detailed film scholar known as Bradley On Film.

RIP, Jack Harrison.

Published in: on June 9, 2010 at 10:35 pm  Comments (3)  
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Doc, Doc, Goose

I’m a big fan of film documentaries. Whether they’re specific to one movie (Hearts of Darkness; the Jaws documentary that originally appeared on the super laserdisc set), one personality (Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures), or a decade’s worth of cinema (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls; A Decade Under The Influence).

This week, I had the good fortune to catch two documentaries on cable. TMC premiered The Eastwood Factor, an in-depth look at the directing career of Clint Eastwood, in celebration of the legend’s 80th birthday. Written and directed by noted critic Richard Schickel, it takes a quick yet detailed look at Clint’s directing career at Warner Bros. (It also makes a nice tie-in with Schickel’s new book, Clint, naturally).

That's Josey, not Josie

Narrated from a first-person perspective by the great Morgan Freeman, whom Clint has directed in Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby (Freeman’s Oscar®-winning role), and Invictus, The Eastwood Factor features candid interviews with a sometimes gray-bearded Clint himself, a nifty look at a Warner lot that holds all the costumes from Clint’s films, and movie clips galore. A must for Clint fans, of course, and for film doc lovers.

The second, watched just last night, was the HBO documentary I Know It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale, directed by Richard Shepard (The MatadorThe Hunting Party). It’s a too-short, 45-minute portrait of the terrific actor John Cazale, who only appeared in five films before succumbing to lung cancer at the age of 42: The Godfather, The Godfather Part IIThe ConversationDog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter.

The two Godfathers stand on their own, and Cazale is simply fantastic as Fredo, the stumble-bum Corleone brother with dreams of becoming a bigger part of the family. The Conversation is an absolute gem starring Gene Hackman as a surveillance expert and Cazale as his assistant (a role written by Francis Ford Coppola just for Cazale). Dog Day Afternoon is not a big favorite of mine, but it’s still well-directed by Sidney Lumet and well-acted all around. Holding a special place in my heart is The Deer Hunter, not only for the experience of seeing it on the big screen as a just-turned 12-year-old, but it’s also the last movie I watched as a single man, the night before my wedding. (Yeah, it’s a guy movie, definitely.) And, yes Cazale is excellent as Stanley, the whiny eccentric who seems to try way too hard whenever possible to fit in with his buddies but is still a pivotal part of their inner circle.

Cazale (left) and the Hunters of Deer

A worthwhile use of any film lover’s time, I Know It Was You is highlighted by a slew of interviews and remembrances by family, friends, and film luminaries such as actors Steve Buscemi, Sam Rockwell, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (all of whom are obviously influenced by Cazale), directors Sidney Lumet, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brett Ratner (ok, maybe Ratner’s not so luminous, but he did co-produce the documentary so he has that going for him if nothing else), and icons/co-stars Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert De Niro (De Niro’s generosity allowed the filmmakers to cast the ailing Cazale in The Deer Hunter), and Meryl Streep, who had an intimate relationship with Cazale and is positively glowing when sharing her memories of him. Heck, the doc even features a clip of The Simpsons over the end credits, where Buscemi notes he voiced a bank robber character with a sidekick that resembled Cazale’s Sal in Dog Day.

Definitely check out both documentaries. You’ll be happy you did.

Published in: on June 3, 2010 at 10:54 pm  Comments (5)  
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