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Vandalism: Brody, Hooper, Mayor Vaughn

For a movie often held up as one of the greatest examples of film editing, it is perhaps surprising to discover that Jaws boasts a single shot that lasts 2 minutes and 44 seconds. We’ve just come from the most famous cut in the film — a head has popped out of Ben Gardner’s boat — and Spielberg wisely realises we need to catch our breath. So he stages the scene where Brody and Hooper double-team Mayor Vaughn, falling over each other to tell him that a Great White is on his doorstep, in one long sequence shot, the actors criss-crossing positions in the frame, moving away from the camera in impatience, returning to re-engage the argument and ending in a low angle to give the argument even more mythic dimensions.

Unlike many sequence shots of long duration and complex, borderline theatrical blocking, the style doesn’t subtract from the substance. Brody and Hooper throw history (the Jersey Beach of 1916), marine biology (sharks react to the vibrations of swimmers) and local tragedy (“It was Ben Gardner’s boat, all chewed up”) at the Mayor but Vaughn is impervious: in the dominant centre of the frame, Hamilton’s face is a model of Your Wasting Your Breath, circling back on the subject on the lost shark tooth like Paxman exposing an expenses claim.

The kicker is when the camera tracks right to reveal the AMITY ISLAND WELCOMES YOU sign now defaced with a big painted shark fin chasing a blonde cutie (based on Brian De Palma’s girlfriend of the time) on a lilo with a boat in the background. Spielberg has primed us for this moment — the sign appears early in the film as Brody drives to work — yet this time round the sign has a different, more chilling function: the blonde (Chrissie Watkins), the lilo (Alex Kintner) and the boat (Ben Gardner) are visual recaps of the plot — a kind of semiotic ‘Previously on Jaws”— and remind us of the ramifications of Vaughn’s decision to keep the beaches open. It’s sunny seaside postcard imagery as portents of dread and doom.

It is Hooper, as ever, who has the keywords. “What we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It's really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks.” There is an enticing purity in that statement and, as critics are wont to point out, an inbuilt encapsulation of the film itself: what better description of Jaws is there than a “perfect engine”?

A footnote — when Hooper tells him that the graffiti of the “paint happy bastards” is proportionally the correct size, Vaughn cuts him down: “Love to prove that wouldn’t you?,” he spits. “Get your name into the National Geographic,” and exits screen left. Hooper just cackles. The National Geographic must have been big in the Spielberg household in the ‘70s. In his next flick, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Dreyfuss’ Roy Neary compares his UFO sighting to “those pictures in the National Geographic about the Aurora Borealis.”

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1 Love it!!
Have to say though I think the best scene involving three characters in Jaws is the scene over dinner with Brody, Ellen and their youngest son. With Ellen looking on, their son (Michael I think?!) impersonates his father in a scene that is visually beautiful, stunningly played by all and almost heartbreaking at the same time. As a father myself the line "Give me a kiss"; "why?"..."because I need it!" is perfectly toned and written. It could have been to his wife, that it's to his youngest son is pure genius, VERY Spielberg and always brings a tear to my eye :) More

Posted by waltham1979 on Thursday September 6, 2012, 17:07

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