I have many personal rites. One of them is to rewatch every summer “Jaws” by Steven Spielberg. Not only because it is a great and scary action movie which, in time, well-deserved its classic status. But also because its multi-layered approach allows us viewers to discover and be entertained every time by single aspects. And its a Cinema Masterclass of 119 minutes which I recommend to any moviemaker. The story of a big shark bringing death and destruction on the shores of a pacificy coastal town called Amity proves to be an experience under many aspects.
The story reprises the myth of the man against the Unknown as our hero, Chief Police Brody (Roy Scheider), has to fight an enemy lying under water, an element which he has always been unnaturally scared of. He will face it with the help of a young and wealthy oceanographer called Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and of a contemporary rogue version of legendary Captain Ahab called Quint (Robert Shaw). The great talent of this movie is to depict the Enemy as something as big as invisible, announced by a famous theme which won John Williams one of his five Oscars and whose simplicity is the essential key of his own dreadfullness. We see the effects of its action but it takes a lot before properly see the shark.
The scene of the second attack, happening on a crowded sunny beach, is a masterpiece on its own. Spielberg, who carefully studied the lessons of the masters like Hitchcock, alternates moments of calm to mounting alarm to irony (thanks also to the expert editor Verna Fields, who too won an Oscar). He puts down all the classic elements of a sunny day at the beach in which the fear grows in bits, thoroughly assembled together until its final outburst. You can watch it over and over and sign down how the tension is built slowly but constantly, switching from the faces of the inhabitants (all remembering Old America movie classics) to the blue sea in which the danger is hiding.
There is also space for a huge and still contemporary political irony in the figure of the Mayor (great and underrated characterization by Murray Hamilton), whose major fear is not the biting Leviathan as the nightmare to lose the money of the people on holiday. A powerful and dissacrating sneer which quickly transform into the darkest awareness.
At 44 “Jaws” is still a lesson for all of us, movie lovers and movie makers, an hymn to the cinema and the power of narration.