Inspired by Iba’s look-back post in July of a seminal box office film, and Universal’s 100th anniversary release of the digitally remastered and fully restored version to Blu-ray Disc (made available just last month), I showed Steven Spielberg‘s definitive film, Jaws, to my kids this passed Labor Day to help complete the summer. It was my son’s and daughter’s first time with the motion picture that some say started it all… the summer movie blockbuster craze. And they loved it. Without a doubt, if you have a hint of adoration toward this movie, this is the version to have in your collection — and I’ve owned nearly every VHS and disc of the motion picture through the years to compare it against. I guess my personal history with the film is its own testament to that fact.
Back in June, for the official start of the warmest season of the year, I recalled in a TMT my initial experience with the film in 1975. It began a unique stint with the film adaptation of Peter Benchley’s bestselling thriller novel in the years since its blockbuster première. I can easily say it is the one film I’ve seen the most times… like ever. Yes, you’d be correct to surmise, given my age and love for watching movies, that this 70s era film would have gathered a fair amount of viewings spread over the decades. You’d be right, and wrong. I think you’d be surprised to learn how large and front loaded that number really was.
As I covered in the post, I caught Jaws on its first Saturday on what’d turn out to be a phenomenal first-run. I then called my cousin shortly after getting home to talk with her about said event. She’d not seen the movie, as yet. Well, we’d fix that. My cousin lived on the southeastern suburb on L.A.’s border. So, she and I met up at the Lakewood Center cineplex the very next day for the 1 PM screening. I wanted to see this partly to re-experience the film, but to also watch those around me (especially with the one who was the closest-to-a-sister I had growing up) react to the film. Given the amount of popcorn I saw flying and the squeals heard in the movie auditorium, I wasn’t disappointed.
I’d see the film one more time that summer, weeks later, once the hoopla died down. The total was three for ’75. Hold that number in your head.
Later that year, right after the Christmas holiday but before the Bicentennial Year landed, I’d quit the part-time restocking job I had at a liquor store in the City of Bell (yes, the very same small and incorporated stead of this scandal). Due to that job dispute (over work-hours, btw), and still in need of pay while I finished my college session, I found other employment to make ends meet (sort of). It’d also lead to the longest legacy (for its relative duration) in my cinema viewing. I became a projectionist in the same movie theater I attended as a kid growing up in the area. The Huntington Park Warner Theatre. Little did I know the shark had circled back and “gone under the boat” with this change.
As I chronicled years ago, but have moved that archive here, my duties there left an imprint when it came to motion pictures. None more so, than with Jaws. Upon the film’s summer re-issue around the midpoint of 1976, I’d be put on a collision course with the beast once more, as I noted in a later post from that blog series:
“The theater owner booked this blockbuster for the summer of ’76 (a year after it debuted) in the hopes that it would somehow work its box office (and concession stand) magic for him. It absolutely surprised the hell out of me by doing just that. It played at the theater for not one, two, or three weeks… but SIX straight weeks!
Even my brother (the same guy who hired and trained me at the theater) came back to watch this (without paying for a ticket, of course). For my entire stint there, I can count on one hand the number of times we were allowed to open up the balcony for patrons. We did that for the first couple of weekends on this film run.
By week three, all of the working projectionists could perform a changeover without watching for cue marks. We knew the movie so well we could do it by listening to the soundtrack and dialog alone. No one was happier to see it go than the crew in the booth (we were so sick of it). I couldn’t re-watch that movie again till sometime in the 90’s.”
Working some weeknights and all the weekends then, I’ve estimated I screened this film, for the moviegoers who bought tickets, ten times… for every week it was booked there. I’m not kidding. Sixty times was the low ballpark figure I came up with for me re-experiencing it during the 200th anniversary year of the U.S. You could inflate that figure even more, if you’d count (fairly or unfairly) the flick I projected for a week a couple of months prior: Grizzly (aka Claws). Substitute a bear for the shark and woodlands for the waters off of Amity Island, and its the same damn movie, people. For a feature film that I’d loved, I had gone to the polar opposite end in a year’s time.
Like the free Pepsi we, the theater staff, consumed as a rare perk (and grew so tired of), I could, and would, not partake in the film for years thereafter. Not even ABC’s 1979 television broadcast of the film could bring interest — nor the initial 1980 VHS tape release. Wasn’t happening. Here’s the thing, though. I did come back to Jaws, eventually.
It began with the 20th Anniversary VHS widescreen Collector’s Edition in 1995. Simply, enough time had elapsed. The bad memory dimmed. That, and Jaws was once again on sale to consumers, this time approaching what I remembered. The original widescreen format of that theatrical screening from long ago was now available (instead the cropped aspect ratio of the first tape). It had rekindled and stirred… something… in me. The giddiness with a dark presence under the waves was back. Moreover, I once more was enthralled with the gratifying screenplay and dialogue that Benchley and Carl Gottlieb had rigged — which had actually improved upon the story by excising some of the potboiler aspects of the novel. The first impression of ’75 became the pleasurably nostalgic that time around.
The film had captured me afresh. So much so, I’d purchase each new version of the film, as Universal periodically milked it, through the years since. Teed it up, too, periodically. Although, I have to admit those were lonely screenings. I was forbidden by she-who-must-be-obeyed from showing it to my children (during their impressionable phase) for the longest time. By this year, Steven Spielberg’s film lit anew in high-definition. The muddy, soft, and washed out colors from the neglected prints used for the old tapes and DVDs was replaced with a pristine look not seen by these eyes since a certain Saturday afternoon in June far, far in the rearview. Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw (“Say, wasn’t he in The Sting, dad?”, one of my kids would say), and Richard Dreyfus were again young, or alive, once more. And still embattled by you-know-what. So, by the time I caught the thrill and glee in my children’s eyes as they sat and watched this a mere ten days ago, I knew after 37 years Jaws and I had come full circle. Especially, when my children, at their fullest, roared in delight with their old man on this iconic line alone:
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”