By Michael Battista
“Well this is not a boat accident. It wasn’t any propeller. It wasn’t any coral reef. And it wasn’t Jack the Ripper. It was a shark.”
Everyone has that one movie that sticks with them throughout their life — that one they quote constantly, know the most minute trivia about and watch whenever the opportunity presents itself.
For me, that movie is the 1975 summer classic “Jaws.”
During this past Fourth of July weekend, Clairidge Cinema, an older movie theater in Montclair, N.J., had two showings of the film, just in time for the 100-year anniversary of the shark attacks in nearby Matawan, N.J., that inspired the movie. Watching it on the big screen was a completely new experience, despite already having seen “Jaws” countless times.
Clairidge Cinema opened in 1922 and has been renovated since then, but the theater has not lost its classic aesthetic. It isn’t a large AMC or IMAX theater, but a more intimate setting with no trailers beforehand. The only thing that opened the movie was the old Universal Studios logo and the opening credits accompanied by John Williams’s famous score.
For those who might be unfamiliar with the film, “Jaws” centers on a fictional New England town called Amity Island. After a young woman is killed during a midnight swim, the town’s police chief, Martin Brody — played by the late New Jersey-born Roy Scheider — tries to convince local officials to close the beaches following what he believes to have been a shark attack. With the town relying on the July Fourth tourists coming in to give local businesses massive profits, the residents and officials stand firm as more people are attacked.
What may seem like a B-list monster movie today, “Jaws” continues to stand out for its subtlety and ambiance. The movie’s shark — whose appearance would not hold up to today’s special effects standards — cannot even be seen clearly for over half of the film. Instead, director Steven Spielberg opted to use underwater point of view shots of the shark or ominous music when the creature was present. No matter where one is seated in the theater, the music sounds great when coming from every direction. At times, it felt like I was back in 1975 seeing this for the first time, jumping as the shark sneaks up on an unsuspecting victim.
In one scene, two fishermen try to catch the shark — with hopes of claiming a $3,000 bounty — using a roast and tying it up along a pier. Suddenly, the chain begins to pull out to sea and the dock gives way, dragging one of the fisherman with it.
He begins to swim back to shore, but then the impossible happens.
The dock, which had been pulled out to sea, turns around suddenly as the music picks up and his friend frantically yells for him to keep swimming. All the while, the viewer doesn’t see any part of the shark — only a dock slowly catching up to the swimmer as the music intensifies.
Scenes such as this one were amplified by the movie theater’s assets — the surround sound, large screen, he cushioned seats that recline back and the theater itself all gave the movie a new feeling even after all this time.
Another noteworthy scene is the U.S.S. Indianapolis story told by Quint, a grizzled shark hunter played by the late Robert Shaw. He perfectly delivers the tale of 1,100 sailors being thrown into the Pacific Ocean after the ship’s side was struck by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine — a classic cinematic scene aided by the haunting sounds of the ocean and the soundtrack.
Quint explains in haunting detail that the surviving members of the crew were subsequently attacked by sharks as they waited for rescue.
“You know the thing about a shark, he’s got… lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye,” Quint says to his shipmates. “When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah, then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin’, the ocean turns red and ‘spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’ they all come in and rip you to pieces.”
“Jaws” still holds up to this day. Clairidge Cinema’s charm and the screening’s proximity to the anniversary of the real-life shark attacks, which also occurred in early July, when thousands of people descend on New Jersey’s shores, made it even better.
Overall, it was one of the coolest cinematic experiences I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing and I would suggest trying to see classics like this on the big screen whenever possible.
For those who intend to visit the beach this summer should watch “Jaws” before heading down. Remember, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”