Jaws: Smashing The Fourth Wall

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“Just go by like you're fighting,”says Francis Coppola during Apocalypse Now, playing a TV director yelling at grunts. “Don’t look at the camera.” It is the golden rule of film and television realism: don’t acknowledge the audience by staring down the barrel of the lens. Given its reputation for stylistic naturalism and invisibility, it is surprising then to find that Jaws’ fourth of July set-piece contains a number of moments where characters look directly at the camera...

The first three 'looks to camera' have a kind of filmmaking convention attached to them to let us accept the direct gaze.

The next shot does the same thing with a man who looks nervously at the audience, then swims right through a family on a lilo, sending the kids flying.

So far, so basic horror movie convention — for critic Nigel Andrews, the expressions on these extras faces comes from the '50s B movies Spielberg would have lapped up as a kid rather than something as sophisticated as Jaws. The camera is taking the POV of what we think at this point is the shark but not from what the “shark” would be seeing but from the point of view of the fin. Spielberg repeats the trick with the real shark and Michael in the pond — Chris Rebello does a more believable scare face than the previous adults, keying us into the idea that this is a genuine attack.

But after the shark has chewed off the Estuary Victim’s leg, the camera speeds above the water towards Michael who eyeballs it the whole way then swerves off as if circling back. The camera level is too high to represent the shark, even at fin level. It doesn’t have the logic of movie grammar — we understand people looking directly at the camera if the camera represents the point of view of something else — but it has a kind of emotional, sensational logic that comes naturally to Spielberg. You’ll remember that the mothership in Close Encounters rises from behind and below Devil’s Tower. You never once think where did that come from? Was it in hiding?