Navigating today, make sure the boat's big enough

Navigating today, make sure the boat's big enough

I consider myself fortunate to have been around when genre-changing and nearly perfect films like “Star Wars,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Toy Story” came along in their initial releases. Long before the internet, cell phones and spoilers coming across every newsfeed, we were able to sit and watch these films with the unknown pleasure of every twist, turn and special effect in all their effective visual storytelling.

I cannot help but think of a few films that I would have loved to have been around for in their initial run, seeing them in all their spoiler-free glory on the big screen.

On the rare occasion my mom and I talk about movies, at least ones that are not musicals, she tends to bring up “Psycho,” a movie she saw in 1960 with some friends while in nurse’s training. Of the many visceral images the movie left her with, she most remembers the shock of seeing “Marion Crane” (Janet Leigh) stabbed to death in that shower by “mother” and being even more surprised that someone as “sweet as Anthony Perkins” could have done such a thing. She showered with her bathroom door open “for years afterward.”

Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, folks might forget that prior to “Psycho,” horror films were not considered a worthy-of-the-film art form. Then Alfred Hitchcock came along and immediately legitimized the genre to the point where it is now arguably, next to action, the most popular of all films genres, accounting for 10% of the ticket sales market share.

But even more than “Psycho,” as we begin our summer movie-viewing days, albeit a bit differently this summer than most, we might owe more to what accidentally became the first summer blockbuster. This film is yet another classic celebrating its anniversary, in this case its 45th, Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws.”

Having directed a made-for-television movie called “Duel,” a film about a truck/truck driver wreaking havoc on traveler Dennis Weaver, Spielberg was initially reluctant to direct another movie where man is being terrorized by a leviathan. But he signed on and, as a result, made the first movie (without adjusting gross income over time) to ever gross over $100 million at the box office and completely changed the ways movie studios looked at their summer releases.

I can only imagine what it must have been like, spoiler free, to sit in that theater, hearing that classic music score by John Williams, and seeing, what I still believe to be, the best opening scene in a movie, ever, for the first time.

So many great moments take place in this film including when Brody, tossing chum into the water and seeing that shark revealed on screen, says the best improvised movie line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” which has now become part of our movie vernacular.

It continues to be a masterclass in suspense, not revealing the actual shark until almost one hour and twenty minutes into the film. It is why Williams’ score was so essential to the movie: Every time we heard those infamous chords, we were conditioned to believe the shark was present.

The Writer’s Guild Strike, the mechanical issues with the shark, tension between Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, and the shoot taking 159 days (instead of the budgeted 55) have all been well documented. But what might be most frightening in this day and age revolves around the politics surrounding the threat.

The political decisions in “Jaws” seem to mirror the political choices being made today during the coronavirus pandemic as local governments struggle with how to reopen the economy. Amity Island relied on their tourist season, and Roy Scheider’s “Chief Brody” seemed helpless going up against the political red tape behind Murray Hamilton’s “Mayor Vaughn.”

A third of the way into the movie when Alex Kintner is killed by the shark, only after his mother allows him to return to the water, Spielberg shows his audience Brody’s reaction. He is telling us, as horrific as the death of the boy is, the focus of the scene is on the chief of police, whose primary job it is to protect his public.

When he is later confronted by Alex’s mother, as she slaps him across the face, accusing him of negligence, the mayor tells the chief she is wrong. Brody’s reply, “No, she’s not,” might be the most painful and truthful line in the entire film.

Again, it genuinely says something about a 45-year-old movie that has us drawing parallels to a global threat and whether we should listen to the experts or hit the beaches, literally and figuratively, for the Fourth of July.

Nevertheless, both films are as relevant as ever, and thankfully, the threats are fictitious. But I would not find it odd at all, given our continued global crisis, if you venture out into the real world humming the theme music from either movie.

Sometimes we have to rely on fiction to help us navigate the real world. Just be sure you do so in a bigger boat.

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