Here’s something to bookmark: Screen Slate. This site keeps us up-to-date on all the happenings at the revival houses in town.
Through this weekend the entire Criterion Collection can be seen for free at Hulu. Don’t sleep.
Tonight at Walter Reade, one of P. Kael’s favorites: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.
This might pick you up. The Princess Bride is a clunky-looking movie but it retains much of the novel’s charm. Funny performances, a good, exceedingly quotable script, and really, who cares how cheesy it looks? That doesn’t take away from the movie’s pleasures. Movie is worth watching, book worth reading.
Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller Jaws is commonly regarded as the first summer blockbuster and as a result, the movie that lead to the death of the creative boom of “New Hollywood” in the late 60s and early 70s. Its influence on not just the movies that followed in its wake, but also the marketing, business and making of movies is incalculable. However, even among film fans who bemoan the changes that the massive success of Jaws brought on, it’s hard to find anyone who dislikes the movie itself. Unlike many sudden cinema phenomena, Jaws has had remarkable staying power, enchanting and scaring the wits out of audiences via cable TV and home video ever since owning the box-office in the summer of ’75.
What’s more is that instead of simply being a nostalgia trip that doesn’t really live up to the adoring affection of its hard core fans (I’m looking at you, Star Wars geeks), Jaws holds its own as a great movie. I know personally, the summer doesn’t feel complete without at least one evening spent watching Brody, Quint and Hooper aboard the Orca. All of this leads to the excitement surrounding the recent Blu-ray debut of Jaws earlier this month. The good news is that the movie hasn’t looked or sounded this good since the summer of ’75. (See the excellent review and screen capture comparisons here at the invaluable website, DVD Beaver.)
I recently read Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name for the first time, and I was eager to watch the movie again, comparing and contrasting what was kept, what was changed and what was completely eliminated for the screenplay, written largely by Carl Gottlieb (who also appears in the film as Meadows, the editor of the Amity town newspaper), with help from Benchley and uncredited work by playwright Howard Sackler, John Milius and Jaws co-star Robert Shaw. The novel Jaws was better than I’d expected it to be, but the screenplay and movie are a vast improvement.
It’s easy to jump on the obvious reasons the movie worked in ’75 and still works now – terrific performances by Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Murray Hamilton and especially Robert Shaw, John Williams’ memorable score, Spielberg’s taut direction. Other reasons the film became a classic are less obvious, but no less important. The technological limits of the mid 70s meant that we didn’t see much of the shark. There was no CGI, and the mechanical shark was rarely functioning properly during the shoot.
The happy result is that the moments when we do actually see the shark make a huge impact and still make people jump in their seats. Spielberg has said that if he’d made the movie 30 years later, he would have used new technology, we would have seen a lot more of the shark and the resulting movie, by his own admission wouldn’t have been nearly as good. The audience relies on Williams’ score, POV shots of swimmers and clever visual cues like the floating barrels to let us know that the shark has returned to wreak havoc.
Another element that keeps the movie from being a staid, formulaic monster movie is Spielberg’s insistence on shooting on Martha’s Vineyard and on the Atlantic Ocean instead of in Hollywood. The Jaws shoot took over the island for months and incorporated many locals into the cast, not only as extras, but in key speaking parts as well. The organic small-town America feel of Amity Island would have been lost on the Universal lot. The film plays upon primal human fears; not simply that there are beasts in the wild who can kill and maim us when we least expect it, but also more mundane fears about losing our businesses, losing our standing in a community or within our family. It’s also simply a hell of a lot of fun.
If you haven’t seen it in years, or if you’re like me and can quote random lines from the movie at will, or if for some strange quirk of fate you’ve never seen Jaws, the new Blu-ray edition comes highly recommended.
Tomorrow at BAM check out one of the Marx Brothers’ classic Paramount comedies: Horse Feathers (1932).
It’s Sidney Lumet Week at the Walter Reader Theater, guys. If you are around, check it out. If you’ve never seen “Q&A,” it’s worth it. Nolte at his best:
There is a new book out from W.W. Norton, “The Times Square Story,” by Geoffrey O’Brien that looks like a keeper.
Over at Bombsite, O’Brien is interviewed by Banter favorite, Luc Sante, where the talk is about the old Times Square:
LS Times Square has been the madcap entertainment capital of the world since at least 1906. But there is a special potency to the postwar era. It seems like the one that will be engraved in collective memory; there’s an enormous subculture based on Times Square in the 1950s and ‘60s—books, videos, CDs, Psychotronic…
GO It’s the old seediness, the old sordidness, which has a completely different meaning now. Part of what changed in Times Square was the advent of hard-core pornographic movies at the end of the 1960s, which put the previous movies in a very different light. It’s as if everything up to that point had been a long, complicated tease and then finally the tease was over. The character of Times Square changed drastically in the ‘70s; by the early ‘80s it was a pretty scary place. It certainly was a different place to walk around in than it had been in the ‘60s. Having grown up in suburban Long Island, I had never seen anything like that. There was really a sense of, Oh, this is the culture I live in. This is what our culture is really thinking about underneath everything else: gigantic forms, enormous shapes, all the hot buttons being pushed, the beautiful unsubtlety of everything. At the same time, there were all kinds of strange subtleties to be discovered. I’m thinking about the movies I watched in the ‘60s, Italian horror movies, science fiction movies, all those spy movies that you and I both seem to have been marked by.
…LS Now, in a way, Times Square is everywhere.
GO Times Square was a kind of zoo of images which are available everywhere now. There is almost no more need for Times Square in the same way there was no need for porno theaters after video came out. You rent movies now about mad doctors dismembering people or people being held in South American prison camps or whatever your particular fancy is. So Times Square is everywhere in this sort of disembodied form, but without the smoke, without the hot dogs, without the peripheral population of people which made it human and which made it seem like part of the world. Now it seems like some weird hyperspace culture of self-replicating images.
LS That is the shape of the future. All of culture is disembodied. You and your 75 friends on the Internet who are interested in H0-scale railroads have never actually met. In city after city, whatever was the equivalent of Times Square is gone, though you can see its vague outline. I was in Seattle last month and realized my hotel was on what used to be that strip. You could tell because across the street there was still one pawn shop and one gun shop. All the movie theaters were gone.
GO I had a similar experience in San Jose, which has otherwise been dismantled and rebuilt as a theme park called Downtown San Jose. I went wandering and found a strip with some funky little stores that were selling bizarre memorabilia and old knickknacks. That general air of rotting paper is always a clue you’re getting near. The only beautiful building I saw in San Jose was a battered old movie theater, which I was told was the subject of a massive political struggle between the people who wanted to preserve it and the developers who wanted to tear it down. It had become the battleground for the preservation of some kind of ancient, sleazy, downtown culture.
The book is about the 1960s but I remember the Times Square of the early ’80s.
My old man lived in Weehawken for a year in 1981-82 and we often walked across 42nd street from the Port Authority on 8th Avenue to Grand Central on the East Side, where he’d put us back on a train to Westchester. I always felt safe with my dad but I remember feeling danger and unease every step of the way. I’ll never forget the signs for Kung Fu movies and the Porno theaters–what was the difference between X and XXX, anyway?–the hookers with bruises on their legs and the men looking at you with screwed up faces.
“The Times Square Story” is out now. Check for it.