Here’s to Swimmin’

I’d never, until yesterday, realized how utterly ruthless Jaws is when it comes to getting the viewer’s attention in the first place.

I’ve been watching a host of 1970s movies over the last year or so, filling in a decade’s worth of blanks in my cinematic education and finding a long list of new favorites in the process. (Most recently, Klute, which feels impressively contemporary in its approach to sex work in some respects, and shockingly old-fashioned in others.) Filled with a new appreciation for what’s apparently called the New Hollywood era by those in the know — and remembering the season — it felt like a reasonable idea to revisit the movie that arguably ushered in the blockbuster vogue that would dominate the ‘80s, ‘90s, and beyond; a favorite of mine as a kid.

When I was a kid, though, I like Jaws for the idea of it: the exciting threat of John Williams’ theme, the visual of the poster, and the polite remix of the horror monster concept at the heart of the movie. It wasn’t really liking the actual movie at all, which is a shame; it’s such a fun, well-crafted piece of movie-making, and such an odd beast, as well.

As a kid I’d not realized, for example, that the first death comes within five minutes of the movie’s opening, wasting no time to tell the audience, “this is what we’re watching, get in or get going.” All of the movie’s metaphors about how America reacts to terror — the bravado and belief that nothing bad will happen to us — was lost on me entirely; similarly, the quiet exploration of masculinity in the second half, when everything slows down and it’s just Brody, Quint, and Richard Dreyfus’s character (who can ever remember his name?) on the boat together.

Maybe all of this is what makes Jaws so good; that it can make the kid me so excited with nothing but the tease of undersea terror and some great music, and the old man me sees it as something else entirely, and neither of us are wrong. Maybe none of that really matters, and I should just stop overthinking and promise myself that Jaws becomes a July 4th staple just because it’s a good movie for whatever reason.

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