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Remembering JAWS

The making of Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” has been chronicled in numerous places: in no less than at least two terrific books (Carl Gottlieb’s “The Jaws Log” and Edith Blake’s “On Location...On Martha’s Vineyard: The Making of the Movie ‘Jaws,’” both of which are still in print) and numerous documentaries (from the laserdisc/DVD documentary to specials that have aired on E!, Bravo and most recently the Bio channel). The original “summer blockbuster” has now been given a gorgeous, colorful treatment in Matt Taylor’s tome JAWS: MEMORIES FROM MARTHA’S VINEYARD, and in some ways this may be the finest chronicle yet of a turbulent production that gave birth to an all-time screen classic.

Instead of taking the point of view of the filmmakers themselves (which has already been done in Gottlieb’s definitive study), Moonrise Media’s coffee-table paperback chronicles “Jaws” from the perspective of Martha’s Vineyard itself – from its locations to its residents, business owners, politicians and everyone else in between. Starting with the arrival of production designer Joe Alves while location scouting in December of 1973, “Jaws” is portrayed almost like a Nor’easter that descended upon MV, impacting the town economically, socially and practically just in terms of simple day-to-day living. Neighbors, friends and colleagues all found themselves a part of the filmmaking process, and their memories add a fresh new perspective to the oft-told telling of the movie’s production.

The book accomplishes this by including hundreds of photographs, most never-before-seen by the public, and many from islanders like Edith Blake who had the good sense to document the shooting with their own cameras, at a time very different than today when cell phones are so readily available. Candid shots of the crew, of the shark, of the sets, cast members and locals dominate each and every page, accentuated by text culled from interviews with a few crew members (Alves and Carl Gottlieb in particular) but mostly Vineyard locals who found themselves being employed far beyond their initial tasks. In particular, Lynn and Susan Murphy found themselves not just driving boat launches but also working with Alves and effects-master Bob Mattey in making Bruce the mechanical shark function as the long summer of ‘74 dragged on – their recollections are fascinating and humorous as they portray just how much “Jaws” was shot flying by the seat of the filmmakers’ pants.

In fact, it’s the one aspect that Taylor’s beautifully designed book most reinforces: that “Jaws” itself was a collaborative success, one that saw actors from Roy Scheider down to even extras improvising their lines, giving the film a real, human center that we seldom see these days at the movies. The daily schedule couldn’t be mapped out all that far in advance since Gottlieb spent most nights rewriting the script with Spielberg – combined with our unpredictable and ever-changing weather here in southern New England, “Jaws” relied on the people making it so much that it’s because of their efforts (as well as Spielberg who marshaled them all together) that the movie overcame its physical production struggles.

Many of the stories are priceless – Lee Fierro’s casting of Mrs. Kintner and her objection to some profanity Gottlieb and Spielberg ultimately excised; the attempts by journalists to break into “Shark City” to photograph Bruce; constant pressure from local politicians and a studio that didn’t think shooting on the Vineyard would be as difficult as it turned out to be; and dozens of local newspaper articles, most reprinted in their entirety here, all of which transport the reader back to when filmmaking, and life itself for that matter, were far different than they are today.

What adds to the book’s brilliance is its lay-out and design. This isn’t just a collection of glossy photographs and random recollections – Taylor went to great lengths in laying it all out in chronological order, making this a must for any “Jaws” fan (and not just Vineyard locals). The book documents, painstakingly, where “Jaws” was at during the spring and summer of 1974 – divulging what scenes where shot when, where, and how. You’ll find out about sequences that had been shot and never discussed since (including the kids who “karate the picket fences” of an Amity bike shop owner), as well as those planned but abandoned for one reason or another (Alves went to great lengths to construct Quint’s boating wharf, even though it’s hardly seen in the finished film at all).

It’s a treasure trove of riches for those of us who love the movie “Jaws,” and the many stories told by the people who were there make for a brilliant package – gorgeous to look at, informative and enlightening to read, and surely a pleasure to revisit in the years to come.

Moonrise Media is selling the book now through their website: the $59 paperback is sturdily bound, while a deluxe limited hardcover set ($250) includes an eight-minute DVD assembly of film shot by Vineyard resident Carol Fligor (with footage of those darned kids “karating the picket fences!”) plus a small piece of the “Orca II”’s fiberglass hull.

Unbelievably recommended – for information on ordering, head to the official site.

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