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Home » Culture and Criticism

Film Fiber: Jaws

Submitted by on January 7, 2016 – 2:24 PM14 Comments


Roy Scheider is the most underrated actor of his generation. I am NOT a crackpot.

If you've never seen All That Jazz, please remedy that; it's not the sort of movie I thought I'd enjoy, but I adored it, and especially Scheider in it. The more films of the era I see, the better I think of him and his effortless bitchy-exhaustion charisma. He's always a surprise, though I suppose he shouldn't be anymore.

Jaws itself surprised me: that this, the godfather of summer blockbusters, is really more of a character study, a bottle episode with Brody, Quint, and Hooper. That this movie simply does not get made today, with the middle-aged guy and the guy with the tooth…thing and the short nerdy guy. (Note: I have had kind of a thing for Dreyfuss for years. Anyone else think he was totes foxy in Stakeout?) That it's 124 minutes, but seems shorter, and yet not rushed.

That the shark is really REALLY poorly done. The way it's lying on its side in a few scenes, and you can hear a hinge creaking? Poor Spielberg. It's so terrible. And I read You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again. I knew I'd see some seams in the build as far as "Bruce" went. It is significantly worse than I'd expected. And yet, the characters' fear is absolutely believable, and the editing, and the increasingly, simultaneously claustro- and agoraphobic feeling as the ship is sinking and Brody is climbing the mast with a "well, why not" expression, lets you have an almost live-theater belief in the shark and the terror it's wreaking. It's really a testament to the skill with which the film is put together that you can invest that much in the lead characters' battle against a villain that fake.

Y'all put Jaws onto the Poppy-Fields Movie Couch Of Fame in 2014; if you still haven't seen it yet, I recommend it. It's the rare classic whose familiarity — the best-known lines and John Williams's notorious score — doesn't work against it for those coming to it late; it's also a neat time capsule, a glimpse into the yesteryear of actors who looked like the types of people they were portraying instead of composites, and kids who wandered around unattended in the summer, and Spielberg having to do more with less just like the rest of us.

What is film fiber? It's the movies I feel it's necessary to have watched in order to participate in the cultural conversation. Canon, in other words, and whether it's good or enjoyable isn't the point. The point, as our exasperated sophomore-English teacher noted on the subject of The Scarlet Letter: "You can hate Pearl all you want, but if you can't tell me what she means, you're going to fail this class."

For more bowls of Film Fiber, click the "Film Fiber" tag below.

Next up on Film Fiber, and I should note that these seldom remain accurate because I have an untreated queue-shuffling compulsion, but anyway, in theory it's: Glory

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  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    I couldn't agree more … impeccable casting and performances (except for poor Bruce the Shark, of course). And I love Robert Shaw's monologue explaining his hatred for all things shark. I think they said when they were filming that, they were all deathly seasick. He got through that bit and then immediately went to be ill.

  • heatherkay says:

    YES! Absolutely.

  • Drew says:

    Given your love of baseball and, apparently, Scheider, you might check out (assuming you can actually find it) "Tiger Town". It's spectacularly hokey and probably not that great (I haven't seen it since I was a kid but have a not-too-sneaking suspicion that it doesn't hold up that well to my thoughts of it as a nine-year-old). I think it was actually the first of what are now the Disney Channel Original Movies, although they went by a different moniker back then.

    The plot, near as I can recall, is more or less about a boy's learning to never give up in what you believe in, if you believe in it enough (enter the hokey angle), in this case, embodied in his love of the Detroit Tigers and his hope that his idol, an aging Tigers star outfielder (played by Scheider, as a character most likely modeled after Tigers right fielder Al Kaline, who played 15 years from his rookie season before the Tigers won the Series in '68) gets a chance to win it all.

    Again, hokey as all get out, but the production value, as far as it goes, is pretty great, from what I recall–shot mostly on location in Detroit, including a lot in the late, great Tigers Stadium, shot on film (which I don't think Disney does anymore), and featuring cameos from then-Tigers manager Sparky Anderson and Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell (sigh…miss them both so much). Amazon has copies of it selling near $100, so it's rarity is pretty high, but, assuming you could somehow find it, maybe check it out for baseball and Roy.

  • Georgia says:

    I love both Roy Scheider and All That Jazz. He–not Dreyfuss–is the one I find foxy, personally. Also love him in The French Connection, which I recall you reviewed recently.

  • Cora says:

    Yes to the genius of Roy Scheider and his performance in All That Jazz, and HELL YES to the Dreyfuss love. I began vaguely crushing on him when I saw Postcards from the Edge, which I realize is fairly late in his catalogue. I remember watching The American President in the theater and thinking to myself, "Why isn't Richard Dreyfuss the President/romantic lead and Michael Douglas the asshole senator? It would make so much more sense that way!! Doesn't anybody else realize that?" Oh, Hollywood. Always trading integrity for a pair of legs.

  • All That Jazz is a take-off on my choice of "What Classic Film Can You Not Get Into?", and that's 8 1/2. I've always found the premise of the movie to be full of self-aggrandizing self-pity ("Oh, I'm so troubled; I'm successful and famous and beautiful women are throwing themselves at me, but I'm so depressed!"), no matter how good the film is on a technical level. All That Jazz is the only incarnation of that story (others include Woody Allen's Stardust Memories and the musical Nine) that I like, partly because of the music, but mostly because Schieder actually gives the least self-pitying performance of anyone in that role.

    He's also very good in The Seven-Ups, Marathon Man, 2010, The Russia House, Romeo is Bleeding, and, of course, Jaws and The French Connection. And Sarah, I know you're not a Shakespeare fan, but he had the best quote about Shakespeare I ever heard; it was something to the effect of after the royalty blather on, the gravedigger comes out to tell us what's really going on.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Hah, I tuned into the end of this just last night, when Schieder is shooting the air tank, and thinking "It must have been deeply, deeply satisfying to blow up that fucking shark." Why else the looooooong shot of the corpse drifting gracefully down through the bloody water, and the seagulls feasting on the floating chunks?

    This movie and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (another Dreyfuss film!) was classic Early Spielberg, when he knew what quiet little beats and realistic moments could do to heighten drama and tension. Like, when Schider's kid nearly gets chomped, and they're at the hospital, and he's carrying his other son. Lyz over at the fantastic site And You Call Yourself A Scientist points out how he's got his hand under his son's shirt, rubbing his back to comfort him. Just that little skin on skin contact. And later, when he's making faces with his kid at the table, or when he and his wife hug goodbye rather than going for a cliche' kiss. Or when Quint wins over the townspeople through terror not of the shark, but of losing the tourist trade and being on welfare all winter.

    And in Close Encounters, when Dreyfuss and Teri Garr have the terrible fight about his nutjob behavior and their kids are crying in the bathroom. It was not played up for drama–that fight made me flash back to every argument my parents had, and how terrified and helpless you feel as a kid. And when she finally packs them up to leave and Dreyfuss runs out to stop her car and begs her not to go, and she just looks at him and says "What? I'm sorry, what?" and drives off.

    Spielberg used to be able to show real people on film in a way that highlighted the extraordinariness of what was going on.

  • Nanc says:

    Fun fact: Richard Dreyfuss was originally cast as Joe Gideon in All That Jazz and had even started filming when he realized he wasn't right for the role and went to Bob Fosse asking to be released. Enter Roy Scheider who channeled Bob Fosse so freakishly well in acting, dancing and looks!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I totally want to see THAT version of ATJ, but I have to agree with R. Dreyf.

  • Kristin says:

    I completely agree with your assessment of Scheider as underrated. The subtle touches he gives the family scenes, and the indescribable expression he's wearing when helping RDreyf into the cage (equal parts hope/encouragement and 'you poor bastard')… the man had chops.

    As the one who submitted this for Poppy Fields HOF consideration, I'm feeling particularly validated it qualifies as Fiber-filled as well. :)

  • Josh says:

    Scheider was good enough to carry freakin' seaQuest, yo. No, seriously!

  • Carrie says:

    Here just to say 70s Richard Dreyfuss was and is my type. 10/10, every time.

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