“The development process was a pleasure from beginning to end. And I have to say, there was a lot of other notes in between. The cannibals thing was so easy. It wasn’t even a note; it was just a conversation. They said, “This is wonderful. You have a fantastic cast, you have the beginning of a fantastic work. We don’t think you need the cannibalism.” And I had already started to sense that. You know what I mean? The development process was already pointing in that direction. It wasn’t an ultimatum.”—
I went into this fully prepared to give the governess the benefit of the doubt, but sorry lady, it seems like the creepiest things about this story are 1) you and 2) the terms of your employment. You can’t contact your boss for any reason? How do you even know when…you’re done. With the job. Is the job…never done??? Anyway, I tell you what, most of what happens in this book is hugging. A truly surprising amount of hugging.
The Exorcist - William Peter Blatty
The real horror here, more than the supernatural, seems to be the generalized fear that comes from something being wrong and not understanding what it is. I read it immediately after the eerily similar memoir Brain on Fire, and the sheer terror of seeing someone transform, unbidden is scary enough without any supernatural influence. Since we spend more time with the characters’ inner monologues than we do in the movie, they feel a lot more dated (A LOT MORE DATED), distractingly so even, but Blatty has a gift for suspense that makes it forgivable.
Carrie - Stephen King
Oooh what an ugly ugly place this novel goes to. Carrie White lives on that fine line between pity and repulsion (see below: Frankenstein) that makes her such an uncomfortable character. King doesn’t disentangle abuse, bullying, and revenge, but instead inserts you right into the gross, nasty, upsetting thick of it. I haven’t read enough King to speak on him as An Author, but this one did a number on me.
Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury
Dreamy and sinister, Something Wicked is equal parts a celebration and indictment of nostalgia. Bradbury recognizes childhood as the liminal, destabilizing time it is, the fears you can have that you’re running behind or getting too far ahead. Time is a helluva thing, even when it moves how it is intended to move—to alter it is the greatest perversion. Layered with haunting details and the strange matter-of-factness which let’s children process and make sense of even the wildest occurrences, Something Wicked lingered with me. I didn’t pick a favorite on the movie list because I didn’t have one; here this is the easy winner.
The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson
There is something comforting about the tropes of horror, of watching characters behave not like real people, but like characters in a ghost story. “Not me,” you can think and shrug it off. Jackson’s ingeniousness is to refuse you any such comfort. The characters react like people do: they get scared and then laugh about it, making jokes while the bed is shaking, screaming and then talking about how weird it was to react like that. They approach terror so rationally that they don’t try to remove themselves from danger.
Jackson’s other great move is the house itself, everything built just a tiny bit wrong, a little off. Spaces have such a power to influence the mind (that same, unconscious influence that sound can have) without doing all that much. Reading this I was reminded of a diner I occasionally went to when I was in school that I called The World’s Uncanniest Diner, the perverse thrill I got from being in a place that just seemed wrong. Hill House brought all that back, and then some.
Night Film - Marisha Pessl
I was disappointed by this novel as one can only be disappointed by something that seems so perfectly theoretically for them. A dense, spooky, cinephiliac journey into the murky depths is everything I’d want in a novel, but this somehow wasn’t that. There is a wealth of good material in Night Film, and it’s clear Pessl had an incredible time researching and planning it, but there’s no getting around that fact that this novel does not want to be a novel. It’s all of the novelness (characters, plotting, narration, dialogue) that falls completely flat, and I couldn’t help wishing that it had just been an ARG on the Cecil B. DeMille level, something dense and expansive and expensive. Pessl’s attempt at an interactive, multimedia experience seem cheap and poorly executed, but what I wouldn’t give to see them carried out on a bigger, more collaborative scale. A real late night, creepy internet k-hole, instead of a simulated one. The sequence at The Peak is genuinely immersive and frightening; I wish the rest of the book were equal to it.
Dracula - Bram Stoker
Oh, Dracula. So many things to so many people. Vampires may be over, but there has never been a better time for Draculas. (There’s that show though, right? Yeah, I’m not going to watch that show. Even though Jonathan Rhys Meyers has the kind of oiliness that makes him a solid casting choice.) Dracula is kind of a disaster, but a lovable one. Halfway through his epistolary novel, Bram Stoker writes himself into a corner and realizes that the characters need to discuss everything that happened prior to move forward in the plot. So they type up and organize their notes and then proceed to read…the first half of Dracula.
So much to love here. Van Helsing is a great character, a kind of Glinda the Good Witch who, rather than solving problems immediately, goldbricks with extended demonstrations, saying “You wouldn’t have believed me” afterward. The Best Friends Vampire Fighting Club of Arthur Holmwood, Dr. Seward, and Quincey Morris is lovely. No vampire can defeat ~fRiEnDsHiP~. Word to Francis Ford Coppola for making the only adaptation that includes Quincey, my favorite character, the cowboy what kills the dracula. He and Mina are the only pragmatic people in this entire novel, and I love them. I have no rational feelings about Dracula. I love every stupid thing about this deeply stupid book. At some point I’ll probably give it the special treatment it deserves in an essay of its own, but for now, this.
Frankenstein - Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Less a frightening tale than a sad, unsettling one. There are no real villains here, unless you count human frailty, which under the circumstances, I think you have to. If Dracula is about having healthy and ennobling responses to grief, Frankenstein is just the opposite. People hurt in Frankenstein. And they don’t deal with it well. I felt for Victor, and I felt for the monster, and I so desperately wanted them both to stop. What makes the cruelty and cynicism in Frankenstein so painful is how closely it exists alongside love and compassion. A thought-provoking downer of a novel.
Spooky Movies I've Watched for the 1st Time This Year
Spoilers, yes of course spoilers, we’re not children here.
The House on Haunted Hill
Of all the Vincent Price characters, Frederick Loren is the Vincent Priciest. You know the premise because it is The Premise. $10,000 a head for sticking out a [host-described] “spend the night ghost party.” William Castle has a way with mid-century gimmick cinema (original screenings had a skeleton rigged to the ceiling that would zoom above the audience), so I was surprised at how beside the point much of the horror seemed. The real discomfort is being stuck in the midst of a feuding couple, think Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf played out on an allegorical scale. Droll as hell.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The movie! Yes, the movie, the movie Joss Whedon hates, the movie he says they ruined. Guess what! They didn’t! It’s great! It’s delightful! Donald Sutherland is at his crusty best, and Kristy Swanson is a charismatic smart ditz who has more in common with Cher Horowitz than Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy. Funnier and punchier than the show at its best (which, despite being out of my circle of beloved TV at this point, I can admit certainly had its moments), it makes a compelling argument for Joss Whedon having his artistic visions foiled, or at least tampered with.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The first one, the one that changed everything. This movie does more with sounds and textures than most do with, well, anything. Deeply suspenseful (like maybe the closest comparison would be Deliverance in terms of movies that made my entire body hurt from tension), and really and truly gross. The matter of factness of the killers/tormentors and of the camera’s eye make it feel more like watching a snuff film (I would imagine??? and also prefer not to) than a conventional movie. One of the rare slasher movies where people seem to behave like actual people, displaying the kind of irrationality and clumsiness borne of mortal fear rather than a filmmaker’s convenience.
Creepy, with a heavy lean on the xenophobic elements of Dracula (surprise surprise, Weimar Germany). These early Draculas, Max Schrek’s Count Orlock and Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula, divide right along the line between grotesque and sexual, and ne’er the twain shall meet until Gary Oldman. Love all three; you’re all my precious children of the night. Visually more thrilling than Browning’s Dracula, v. gif-able.
Shadow of the Vampire
Kind of a forgotten treasure, this one. “Max Schrek was actually a vampire” is such a simple premise, and it’s treated with equal parts humor and terror. Willem Defoe’s performance turning on a dime from goofy oddness to genuine menace. Malkovich’s F.W. Murnau is great—turning the Stanislavsky Method into an actual act of violence against his actors would be a heavy-handed metaphor, except that it’s done so deftly. The film is brisk and compact, a tidy little present that left me awed and unsettled.
The Masque of Red Death
Roger Corman’s reputation as the n’est plus ultra of B movies makes it easy to forget that the man had one hell of an eye. It’s not just that he could work with a low budget, but that he could make a low budget look good. The imagery in The Masque of Red Death is lurid and genuinely unnerving, and the movie gets a lot of mileage out of its skimpy (though visually rich) source material. Geoff described this one to me as “The most Tumblr movie that Tumblr hasn’t discovered yet,” and I get what he means; it’s almost infectiously screencappy. Plenty of ~socioeconomic relevance~, if you go in for that, and I usually do.
The Devil’s Advocate
Expensive, high camp, as only the ’90s could bring us. The days of these opulent, misguided studio dramas are basically over, and it breaks my heart a little. This movie is such an artifact of that era. Pacino’s rants are as great as advertised, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. The hamfisted symbolism, the unconvincing casting, the way every single actor says the word “fuck” the way an eleven-year-old, proud to be getting away with something, says the word “fuck.” There’s just so much to love. They really don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
Bride of Frankenstein
Rarely have I been so taken aback; this one was both weirder and more moving than I ever could have imagined. Full of perverse touches, like an assortment of homunculi in jars (including a miniature king that looooves mischief) nestled right up against moments of heartbreak (the monster experiencing his first, all too brief moments of kindness), it’s a disorienting balance, but an exciting one. Elsa Lanchester brings her doe-eyed oddness in equal measure to the parts of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and The Bride. Imagine the crushing despair in being a monster and having another monster look at you and go “eww.” I don’t have to imagine, because I was a teenager once. Great movie. Highly recommended.
The Evil Dead
Oh-ho did this one ever push the limits of the amount of gore I can tolerate! I didn’t find myself as invested in it as I wanted to be, but I will say this: there aren’t a lot of movies that I can say are shot funny, but Evil Dead definitely is. I appreciated its madcap, funhouse-y quality* more than I did its over-the-top grossness (I get the appeal—I just don’t feel it). As a declarative statement by a young filmmaker, it’s great, an endearingly excessive demonstration of imagination (I felt the same way watching Dead Alive).
The Blair Witch Project
Nope. Boo. Yes, it’s always disappointing watching an influential movie over a decade later, when its pervasiveness has already become overwhelming. But there is a clear delineation between something that was good at the time and something that was never good, and this is the latter. Not only is its found footage format unjustified (because guess what—THE FOUND FOOTAGE FORMAT IS ALWAYS UNJUSTIFIED), the movie spends untold amounts of energy desperately trying to justify it, at the expense of telling a good story. And look, I’m terror > horror to the grave (HAHHH), but if you want your audience to make up the difference with their own sick imaginations, you have to give them something to work with. A hint. Anything.
And noooot to get on a soapbox about it, but this whole movie is about a woman who is a big whiner, a shitty leader, and a poor navigator. Come on now.
Story by M. Night Shyamalan, which should be enough of a goofy draw, but it’s so much more. People stuck in an elevator, but one of them is tHe DeViL, as though a bunch of 15-year-olds were rounded up and asked to pitch movies and this is the one that was chosen. The presence of the Devil is demonstrated by a character throwing a piece of toast (found in a security room?) only to have it land butter-side down, SEE? Don’t you SEE IT, you can’t turn a blind eye to this STUNNING EVIDENCE. This puppy is a well-oiled machine of bush league ideas, and it’s a real delight to watch. The Devil is the old lady because of course it is. She escapes at the end. I imagine her flying above Philadelphia in her sensible shoes, cackling wildly as Our Protagonist, he of the dead loved ones and the drinking problem and the lapsed faith, forgives the man who killed said loved ones in a hit and run and oh man how can I do this justice?
To sum up, Devil is like watching a high school play of itself, and that alone makes it worthwhile.
Children of the Corn
You know how sometimes you look at a title and think “That is, if not a metaphor, than a demonstration of some kind of indirectness, because it’s not possible that it is a literal description of the movie I am about to watch.” Well strap in, buckaroos, because Children of the Corn is about children and corn. That’s all I’ve got to say about it.
Dressed to Kill
Brian De Palma does Psycho, and it makes you wonder why, after that, anyone would think they actually had to remake Psycho. A snappy little thriller with some unpleasantly retrograde attitudes toward trans* people (the villain gets correctly gendered more often than not, however, which is…something??). Lotta great outfits in this one, and some really super scenes of suspense. It’s not a controversial opinion to say that De Palma’s always been gunning for the Next Hitchcock pedestal, and the guy has the chops. This movie is a good object lesson in making heavy-handedness work for you.
When I finish watching a movie for the first time, I like to take to Wikipedia afterward, because hey, you learn a lot of good things that way, and sometimes movies have truly incredible pages. This is one where I’d recommend going there first because while there’s something to be said for going into a movie this notoriously bonkers blind, I found that the context (like for example, that the writer wrote in English although she didn’t have the firmest grasp on it and was also trying to express her anger at her vegetarian friends through cinema) only heightened my appreciation.
If I had watched this while still living in a house in the Valley, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep. It is THE suburban slasher, where terror lurks into the ten foot distance in the dark between you and the outdoor laundry room, or behind the tall windows, which, missing the natural light that makes them so desirable, turns them into prosceniums for a play you can never be sure you aren’t acting in front of a shadowy voyeur. Pleasantly surprising how well it holds up in spite of its familiarity. It leans a little heavily on third act character stupidity, but the scares are real all the same.
Pleasantly surprised by this one as well. In-jokey and self-referential while still being genuinely scary and subversive, it’s basically the movie that a lot of very wrong people told me Cabin in the Woods would be. Watching Wes Craven lacerate the genre that made him (all the while very much serving that genre) is exciting in a way that watching Joss Whedon point at a trope and say “That trope” could never be. Look at everybody’s precious ’90s faces. Skeet Ulrich, hope he’s out there somewhere, having drinks with Claire Forlani and talking about what might have been. The biggest disappointment of this movie was finding out that Breckin Meyer was up for Jamie Kennedy’s role and didn’t get it. Could you imagine, could you EVEN IMAGINE the warmth he would have brought to that role? David Arquette shoulders the warmth burden just fine. Did he and Courtney Cox meet on that set? Was it their Cruel Intentions? Rose McGowan should never be blonde, not ever.
*Fun fact about me: The first time I was ever in a funhouse I had to be bodily lifted out the window into the arms of my mom because I was absolutely not having it. Circus aesthetics are creepy enough in themselves, but I remember being wholly terrified at the idea that the only way out was through, which is why I was also scared of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and why every time the L train is delayed under the East River it takes years off my life.
"Point Break was originally called Johnny Utah when Keanu Reeves was cast in the title role. The studio felt that this title said very little about surfing and by the time Patrick Swayze was cast, the film had been renamed Riders on the Storm after the famous rock song by The Doors. However, Jim Morrison's lyrics had nothing to do with the film and so that title was also rejected. It was not until halfway through filming that Point Break became the film’s title because of its relevance to surfing.”
“At the 1992 MTV Movie Awards, Point Break was nominated for three awards including “Most Desirable Male” (Keanu Reeves), “Most Desirable Male” (Patrick Swayze), and “Best Action Sequence” for the second jump from the plane. In it, Agent Utah jumps out of a plane without a parachute to catch Bodhi and rescue Tyler. Utah catches up with Bodhi and holds a gun to his head. However, Bodhi refuses to pull the rip cord and Utah must decide between dropping his gun (so he can hold on and pull the rip cord) or letting the two fall to the ground. The film ultimately won “Most Desirable Male” for Keanu Reeves.”
Yikes, what a specific question! Only novels! 1985-2013! JEEZ. As I am away from my bookshelf, which I’m sure would provide a nice visual reference for this question, I’m just gonna have to go off the top of my head here. Bear in mind, I’m not very well-read in any specific era. A mile wide and an inch deep, that’s me:
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
Lonesome Dove is playing with a stacked deck because “gritty, emotional, epic western” is pretty much the last word for me. It walks a very difficult line between allowing its characters to be both matter-of-fact and deeply affected by the cheapness of life in harsh environs. They are people whose relationships with the memory of people they loved are as much a fact of life as their relationships with the living people around them. Unbelievably rich, well-drawn characters. Gus McRae is one of my favorite characters in literature, and when I found out that this novel is where my parents got the idea to name me “Augustus” had I been a boy, I was almost okay with it. Almost.
Not to mention that McMurtry rewrote it to be a novel after his screenplay died in development. SOMETIMES FAILURE IS A GIFT BLAH BLAH BLAH.
The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy
I could list you all kinds of Ellroys here, but The Black Dahlia is the one that really hurt. It’s so raw; he doesn’t have the same command over his style that he later developed. His later novels would have shades of Bucky Bleichert, the protagonist undone by obsession, but this is the unvarnished, from hunger version. Truly ugly, truly great.
Swamplandia, Karen Russel
Lush, spooky coming-of-age novel. Something that almost seems like it sprang out of that deep well at the back of your brain where you keep ghost stories, urban legends, and the personal mythologies you develop from looking down a dark hallway as a kid. Plus, you know, alligators.
2666, Roberto Bolaño
The standard against which I measure the contemporary big, ambitious, mysterious novel. Bolaño doesn’t fall into the trap of getting so caught up in the vast, mysterious world he creates that he treats his characters like meat puppets (looking at you…everyone). One of the most intellectually and emotionally demanding books I’ve ever read. If you want a book that won’t remind you that the world is caving in under the weight of violence and indifference to violence…this is not that book!! It’s great, though. So great.
I work at a high end jewelry store. As day jobs go, it’s pretty nice (salary! health insurance! low-key atmosphere!), and a lot of the people I work with are artists, but since we mostly all work in different fields, it doesn’t feel very competitive.
It’s not anything I ever expected to find myself doing, and there is definitely an inherent weirdness in selling things you can’t afford, but hey! Now I know all about gold and gems and stuff.
Do you still draw/make visual art often? Occasionally? At all?
Hardly at all. I feel really bad about this because I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil, but I try not to worry about it too much. My interests ebb and flow (for instance, I went several years hardly reading any new books, and now it feels like that’s all I do).
The other thing is I’m kind of a perfectionist about drawing, which really makes it not the relaxing activity it should be. That’s part of why I was really amazed and pleased at your 100 Drawings in a Weekend experiment. I don’t know, like I said: ebbs and flows. I’m sure it’s never going to completely leave my life.
Top 5 karaoke go-tos! Name them! Top 10 if you're as big a dork as I hope you are.
Did you guys know that I take karaoke really really seriously? Too seriously in fact? Won’t go to private room karaoke because I think it violates the spirit of the thing seriously?
To that end, I try to read the crowd when selecting a song (I tend to go to metal karaoke nights, even though I’m not a huge metal person, so bear that in mind), but here are a few I can count on to do well most of the time:
1) Search and Destroy
2) Leader of the Pack
4) I’ve never gotten to do Personality Crisis because I’ve never been anywhere that had it, but I think that would be a slam dunk.
5) Great Balls of Fire
6) Immigrant Song
7) Be My Baby
8) Just a Girl
9) Do You Wanna Touch Me (Gary Glitter version, which I like slightly better than Joan Jett’s)
10) Where Eagles Dare
2) Cat People (Putting Out Fire with Gasoline)
3) This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us
Can’t on Account of My Voice Won’t Go There, but Would if I Could:
I consider you a Master of Twitter. I am terrified to tweet things, and constantly delete stuff once I send it. You just sort of DO IT and it is awesome. How do I get there? I mean, my tweets won't be as cool as yours, but still. BUT STILL.
It really depends on what I’m writing. For the bloggy longformish stuff you see here, I’m hugely over-reliant on iNsPiRaTiOn, which is gross and frustrating, and I wrote about it here. I find if I have to take notes or plan an essay, it dies in the note-taking/planning stage. This is a habit I’m actively trying to break; my drafts folder is a first paragraph graveyard. So when the urge strikes, I tend to write like there’s a gun at my back, and I publish out of sheer adrenaline, which means I tend to put out a lot of stuff that could stand some editing (some of which I do after the fact).
I like writing about movies and books because I feel equipped to handle them. Most visual art and music I don’t have as much of a vocabulary for. I’ve tried my hand at comics criticism, but I don’t really think it’s for me. I’m wary of writing personal essays, so I try to keep it to anecdotes.
Screenwriting is a whole different story because I’ve never written a screenplay alone. If I’m generating material out of whole cloth I tend to feel safer working with a partner. I’m better at developing stories through collaboration than working on my own, at this point, though I’m hoping that’s not a forever-problem.
I’ve gotten a huge education from my dad; I grew up hearing pitches and reading scripts, and as a result I’ve internalized a lot about structure and storytelling. He and I have worked on stuff together, and he’s a tremendous editor/coach, so he’s been pretty invaluable.
As for nuts and bolts, my current partner and I start with a loose outline for each draft and then just write it (over Google Docs because we live on opposite coasts). We have a pretty natural rapport, so on our better days, it doesn’t really feel like work—just having a conversation.
Tessa! We don't talk music enough. What are you into in a general sense, like mood or genre or whatever, and what are you listening to lately?
Oh, I’m actually really glad you asked me this because music is such a fraught subject for me in general, and I tend to avoid talking about it/voicing strong opinions. Music is a very private thing for me, and in many ways I don’t give a lot of time to it in my current life, which, as I’m writing it out, sounds pretty sad.
A big part of how I experience and appreciate music involves privacy and time; I still haven’t really learned how to discover music outside of a car. And I don’t tend to seek out a lot of new music, either, though I end up hearing a decent amount living with Geoff, who is my big source for hip-hop (you too, actually!). It’s pretty safe to say that whatever he’s digging, I’m probably digging too. Except for Drake. Sorry, Geoff.
But truthfully it takes a lot of time spent alone with a song or an album before it really carves any pathways through my brain. My taste ends up being really eclectic and scattered because increasingly I respond more to individual songs than I do to albums or larger bodies of work (high school me is screaming).
Janelle Monáe and Solange Knowles are two of my favorite artists. I got into them around the same time (four or five years ago? I was in college and my friend Leon and I would listen to them at our kitchen table a lot, in between arguments about doing the dishes), and they both keep getting better and doing great shit (in totally different ways), which is really exciting.
I had a big punk phase in high school (inasmuch as a dork like me can—I listened to a lot of punk music and like, read books about it because I was too wholesome a kid to get myself in any real trouble), and the only real vestige of that is my undying love for Iggy Pop. “Search and Destroy” is my go-to karaoke jam.
Kanye is up there, with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy being on top for me because that self-love/self-loathing thing is something I hope to one day not relate to, but here we are.
The Gene Vincent song “Cat Man” is perfect.
I like Lana Del Rey for her intentional camp (though some would argue there’s no such thing) and Katy Perry for her less intentional camp. I like dealing with personas, as previous writings may have suggested.
I like the theme from The Third Man because when I listen to it while walking down the street, it’s like being in on a joke that no one else is.
Tiny Tim’s music makes me genuinely happy.
That barely scratches the surface. I’m generally all over the place and short of attention span with music, and what thrills me one minute may not the next.
You take something controversial or buzzed about, anything that is being subjected to the internet echo chamber/thunderdome.
You take that thing, and you engage with it (watch/read/listen to/etc.) alone. Alone!
You think about that thing. You form an opinion. Alone! Take however long you want! Days! Weeks! There is no deadline. Ambivalence counts as an opinion, as long as you can articulate it to yourself.
You have your opinion ready? Great! Don’t tell the internet. No matter how many opportunities arise, do not join the public conversation.
Here is what you do instead:
You find a friend, and you talk to them. In person, via email, however. You have a real conversation with a real person. Maybe you will both agree or disagree, but you will both talk, and you will both listen. In good faith, like regular people!
And that’s it. That’s the whole thing.
(I feel obligated to add, this isn’t a “shut up, people” thing. Sometimes your thoughts should be public, sometimes they very much need to be. This is just a gift, for you, when you need it.)
I read Jaws the book this week. I did it because I hadn’t, because Tully (tmills to us here on tumblr.com, which is not letting me insert hyperlinks for some godforsaken reason) said it was terrible (it is), and because in its wake, Peter Benchley has refashioned himself as a shark conservationist, and I can’t get mad at that.
So I read Jaws the book. I don’t think everyone should read Jaws the book, but I think people not yet dispossessed of that knee-jerk “the book is always better than the movie”* attitude should definitely read it. Sometimes subplots enrich a story, and sometimes they clutter it. Quint actually says something to that effect in the novel (it’s about chumming, but I’ll take my metaphors where I can get ‘em):
"Like I said, if the slick gets too big, it’s no good…The slick would be big and confusing, and even if [the shark] came up right up alongside and looked at us, we wouldn’t know he was there unless he took a bite out of us."
The limitations of film are often its greatest assets. A movie can’t give you paragraphs’ worth of background on Amity Mayor Larry Vaughan (well, it could, but it’d be a dick to do it), but it can show you the guy in an anchor jacket that gives you the gist of it.
The costume piece so good, it has its own Facebook page.
I think limitations can be good for artists in general, but for directors in particular. Watch a Spielberg popcorn movie now, and watch Jaws, starring a mechanical shark that didn’t work. Jurassic Park was the movie where everything went right, and it was the end of everything. We would never have to replace a shark with a barrel again.
R.I.P. Big-Budget Creativity.
The thing I perhaps missed most from the novel was Robert Shaw. DID U KNOW**: “Shaw based his performance on fellow cast member Craig Kingsbury, a local fisherman, farmer, and legendary eccentric, who was playing fisherman Ben Gardner.” Benchley’s Quint is an Ahab-like figure in that he shares Ahab’s eccentricities but not their source. He is a man with a past, but not a particularly haunted one. Can you even imagine Jaws without the U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue?
Jaws wasn’t the first aquatic menace movie, but it’s the one that defined the genre. Some elements of Jaws have become so intrinsic to this type of movie that they have transcended homage to become convention.
That Zoom is so ubiquitous it needs to be taken out of context to even read as a nod anymore. For example: Wayne Knight’s face at the police station in Basic Instinct, another movie about a gaping maw of [loses the will to finish making this vagina joke]. Speaking of maws, Maw was one of the many unfortunate titles Peter Benchley considered for his novel. I love writing titles, but trying to name Jaws would have given me a headache, too.
I’ve had recurring dreams about sharks, real and mechanical, for as long as I can remember. I find them equal parts frightening and comforting. Jaws was my first scary movie, an effective one at that, but the day after I first watched it, I went to the beach and swam.*** When I worked a demeaning job at Universal Studios Theme Park, the proximity of fake Amity Island and it’s animatronic leviathan brought me some modicum of comfort, like carrying a [barely functional] good luck charm in my pocket.
So yes, I read Jaws the book. And I’m glad I did. But it’s Jaws the movie whose frames and sounds have been so imprinted on me that even in the moments of greatest suspense, they feel like home. I could almost curl up in the Roy Scheider zoom and take a nap. There are dozens of movies I could call my favorite, but there are few that occupy the kind of beachfront property of my heart that Jaws does. Though I hear that prices are dropping. Something about a killer shark.
*This should be strictly the opinion of a precocious third-grader, not of an adult who has actually read books or watched movies.
**Via Wikipedia. I have spent so much time on the Jaws Wikipedia page over the years that we are now in a common-law marriage.
***My unofficial living will largely consists of me telling my parents, whenever it occurs to me, that in the event I die in a shark attack, to lobby for the shark not being killed, because damn, that’s just bad luck.