Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Scene Of The Week: JAWS (bloody beach)


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The amazing thing about JAWS is that it is so well made it stands up now... and is better than most current films. In fact, compare JAWS to JURASSIC PARK (same director) and JAWS still wins. Better characters and situations and more suspense. The novel JAWS is kind of a pulpy beach read - a big chunk of it focuses on the affair between Mrs. Brody and hunky young Matt Hooper. All of that was removed for the film, and some great scenes were added. In fact, what always impresses me about JAWS is how many great scenes and memorable scenes are in the film. Just for fun, why not write a list of the great or memorable scenes you can remember. Doesn’t matter how long it has been since you have seen the movie, in fact - the longer it has been the better! If you haven’t seen the film since 1975, those scenes you can remember now made an impression.

Got your list? Well, I know which two scenes are on the top, and we’ll be looking at one of those later in the series, but now let’s look at one that is probably further down your list...  A memorable scenes.

This scene happens about 13 minutes into the film... you read that right! The movie begins with the teens on the beach, skinny dipping, shark attacking the girl. Great way to start a film! The audience knows there is a shark out there. Next we have a scene that introduces Martin Brody and his wife and kids - he’s new on the job. He was an NYPD cop, who came to Amity... and is not thrilled by the water. He’s also over protective of his kids - he warns them the swing set isn’t safe.

Next scene we have our missing girl, and the guy she was with is showing Brody where she disappeared... and then they find what is left of her. Shocking! The town’s medical examiner confirms it as “Shark Attack”. Brody asks where they keep the “Beach Closed” signs... and finds out they don’t have any.

So Brody heads down to the store to buy sign making supplies. Now, here’s the great thing - the bike shop guy wants Brody to deal with the kids at the Kung Fu class, because they keep kung fuing his fence and even his bikes. The small town problems he *thought* he was going to deal with! He gets to the store, and more small town problems are discussed as he buys the paint and brushes and signs. He tells his deputy to take the stuff back to the police station and have the *secretary* make the signs, she has better penmanship. This becomes an issue!

Then Brody gets cornered by the Mayor and City Council Members on a ferry - and is pressured to change the cause of death to “boating accident” and pressured to keep the beaches open. The Mayor gives that great little speech about how when someone yells “Barracuda!” no one cares, but when someone yells “Shark!” it creates a panic. Brody *knows* this was a shark attack, but bends under the pressure. It’s him on that ferry against a handful of others - his bosses - who press him to do what he knows is the wrong thing.

Which brings us to this scene, about 13 minutes into the film. See how fast paced this film is? But it doesn’t seem that way - we get a good introduction to Brody and his family, a feel for small town life, introduce Body’s deputy and secretary, a look at small town politics... all while dealing with the shark attack. These aren’t a bunch of quick-cut MTV scenes, these scenes are concise and do many things at once. Packed with information, and emotion...

And then we have our day at the beach...




This scene is all about Brody *knowing* that he was pressured to do the wrong thing. He’s on edge - watching the people in the water.  We get to know some minor characters - the Kitner Boy and his Mom, the Boy and his Dog, the Woman on the raft... and Bad Hat Harry (Bryan Singer’s production company!). All of these people will be players in the scene.

This scene has two great Hitchcock techniques - the “Hitchcock Wipes” where a passing person bridges the cuts so that it all flows as if it is one piece of film. This technique was used in “Rope” and “Frenzy”.  In JAWS each wipe takes us closer and closer to Brody - focusing on how intently he is watching the people in the water... worried about a shark attack. The other technique is the “Dolly/Zoom” from “Vertigo”, where the camera dollys at the exact same rate as the lens zooms to that we get an expansion or compression of the background.

One of my favorite bits is when the guy *blocks Brody’s line of sight to the water* in order to talk about red curbs or whatever mundane thing. This creates suspense and frustration for Brody’s character - and that perfectly transfers to the audience. Conflict is the key to everything, and here we have another person with a small problem getting in Brody’s way when there is a much bigger problem. The great payoff with this is the screaming girl and her boyfriend. This heightens the tension. Even though it’s a fake out, we *know* that something is going to happen for real.

Now we “make it personal” with his kids getting into the water. He’s concerned, but hold back - tries to act cool. His kids swim way out there... towards the Kitner Boy.

Now it’s Bad Hat Harry who blocks his line of sight. The conflict has *escalated* because Brody’s kids are out there... in potential danger.

Escalating the tension and building dread is the Boy unable to find his Dog. That stick he was throwing is floating in the water... but no Dog fetching it. Something is wrong.

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Did you see that? One of the great things about the shark eating the Kitner Boy is that it happens *in the background* of the shot of Brody’s kids and their friends swimming. Instead of making it obvious, the shot puts it in the background so that we aren’t quite sure what we saw. That’s more ominous than if they made it obvious. The folks on the beach aren’t sure what they are seeing, as well. That’s when we get the great “Dolly/Zoom” and Brody - knowing this is all his fault for being spineless - runs to the edge of the water and yells for everyone to get out of the water.

Here’s where we get more wonderful conflict. The parents race *into the water* to grab their kids! Into danger! Now Brody is trying to get the parents back to the shore (unsuccessfully) as well as get the kids to swim to shore. Absolute panic! Once everyone is on shore and heading away from the water, one person is walking *toward* the water - Mrs. Kitner. The scene ends just over 18 minutes into the film... with the bloody raft brushing up against the shore.

That’s not even one of the top two scenes you wrote down, which were probably “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” and Quint relating his experience on the USS Indianapolis during WW2.

What does that look like on the page?



               EXT. AMITY BEACH - DAY

               A plump jelly-bowl of a woman plunges into the ocean. There's 
               enough there to satisfy the most gluttonous shark. Buoyant, 
               joyful, she splashes away in abandon. From her, we pan off 
               to reveal other cheerful bathers enjoying that last 
               uncluttered weekend before the season starts in earnest.

               ANGLE ON THE WATERLINE

               A Man and his dog are romping at the water's edge. The Man 
               is throwing a stick out into the surf, the dog, a happy 
               retriever, is bounding into the waves after it.

               TWO YOUNG PEOPLE ON THE BEACH

               A Girl and her Boyfriend leave their blanket and run for the 
               water, playing tag, chasing each other, having a wonderful 
               time.

               ANGLE ON BIRTHDAY PARTY ON THE SAND - MARTIN AND ELLEN BRODY

               He is sitting stiffly in a beach chair, scanning the beach 
               with careful, cautious looks, eyeballing everything that's 
               going on.

               Around their particular blanket and umbrella are a number of 
               adults and their kids, the youngsters gathered to celebrate 
               Michael's birthday. Ellen is dishing out ice cream and cake 
               from a cooler chest to the raucous 10-year-olds. Michael's 
               hand is still bandaged.

                                     MAX TAFT
                              (an adult)
                         Looks like another big season. Gets 
                         worse every year.

                                     MRS. TAFT
                         And none of them from the Island. 
                         Just a lot of bother.

               Brody (and we) hear a shrill scream from the water. He 
               stretches to look past the group, to see what's happening 
               out there.

               BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW - THE WATER

               The young lady is disappearing under the water, pulled under 
               the waves by some force. She is shrieking. She pops right up 
               again riding the shoulders of her boyfriend, who pulled her 
               under. She's laughing hysterically. Brody is unamused.

               THE ADULTS

                                     BRODY
                              (to Taft)
                         What?

                                     TAFT
                         Present company excepted, but off-
                         islanders are a pain in the butt. 
                         Pardon my French.

               Ellen captures Sean, and holds him playfully, an example.

                                     ELLEN
                         What about this kid? What if he were 
                         born here. That make him an islander?

                                     TAFT
                         Just 'cause a cat has kittens in an 
                         oven, it don't make them muffins.

                                     SEAN
                         I'm not a muffin! I'm a boy!

               Brody rumples his hair and sets him off to play.

               ANGLE ON ANOTHER SMALL BOY, PLAYING ALONE

               It's Alex Kintner, and his mother, nearby, reading a novel.

               Alex is towing a funny rubber raft, and headed for the water.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Alex! Alex Kintner! Where do you 
                         think you're going?

                                     ALEX
                         Water. Just once more, please?

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Let me see your fingers --

               He holds out his hands.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         They're beginning to prune. 10 minutes 
                         more.

               Alex starts for the ocean. Behind him, Michael and his gang 
               are also heading for the inviting waves. Brody is watching 
               them go, his spine rigid with tension.

               MAN AND HIS DOG

               As Alex and the boys hit the water, we see the man throwing 
               his stick into the waves, his dog swimming strongly after 
               it.

               BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW

               Out beyond the kids and the dog, the Fat Lady is bobbing 
               around, out way too far, isolated from the other swimmers.

               UNDERWATER VIEW - EXT. - DAY

               A fish's-eye view of the bathers: lots of little kicking 
               legs, rafts with tasty arms dangling in the blue, slowing 
               circling, favoring one raft (little Alex's). The Kintner 
               boy's legs and arms are kicking and paddling, producing 
               bizarre underwater vibrations of more than passing interest.  
               Dog goes by, dog-paddling along.

               ON THE BEACH

               Brody is half-rising, looking out over the water. The Fat 
               Lady is not where he remembered her. He scans the water 
               anxiously.

                                     ELLEN
                         Do you want the boys to come in? 
                         Honey, if you're worried...

               A Black Object swims across the water. It's the dog, breasting 
               against the surf.

               ANGLE ON THE WATER - BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW

               It's the Fat Lady, floating, relaxing. A black object swims 
               up to her. It's not the dog. It rears up out of the water.

               It's a man in a black bathing cap. They exchange distant 
               pleasantries, he strokes away.

               ANOTHER ANGLE - WATER

               Alex Kintner, paddling around, making boat sounds, tooting, 
               going "vroom, vroom."

               ANGLE ON THE BOY AND GIRL

               They kiss, embrace, kiss again. Strong stuff. They sink 
               beneath the waves, knotted in an embrace.

               ANGLE ON MICHAEL BRODY AND HIS FRIENDS

               He's trying to salvage a soggy piece of birthday cake, holding 
               it above the water, paddling with his other hand. The bandage 
               has come part way loose, and his cut is trailing in the water.

               BRODY AND ELLEN ON THE BEACH

               Ellen is rubbing suntan oil on his back, and he is allowing 
               himself to relax part way. His eyes still nervously scan the 
               beach in a constant surveillance. Mr. Keisel is coming out 
               of the water, toweling off vigorously, exclaiming to himself.

                                     BRODY
                              (to Keisel)
                         How's the water?

                                     KEISEL
                         Too cold. I'm going in again Labor 
                         Day. Hope we get this weather next 
                         weekend.

                                     ELLEN
                         You're very tight, y'know?
                              (digs in)
                         Right there.

                                     BRODY
                         Ow.
                              (he sees something)
                         He's gotta be more careful in the 
                         water...

               ANGLE ON THE GANG PLAYING IN THE WATER

               Michael has just been drenched. He splashes back. A big 
               waterfight ensues, the boys splashing and chopping at the 
               water, shouting battle cries and karate whoops. Alex is 
               paddling around near them, but not involved with them.

               ALONG THE WATERLINE ON THE BEACH

               The Man with the Dog is whistling into the ocean, looking 
               for his dog.

                                     DOG MAN
                         Buster! Hey, Buster! Here boy!
                              (whistles)
                         He continues to ad lib calling his 
                         dog, but there's no answer, no dog 
                         in the water.

               THE WATERFRONT

               A huge splash explodes in the water near the gang, an eruption 
               of foam and spray that stops everyone cold for a moment.  
               They stop to see who was responsible.

                                     A KID (MATHEW)
                         Hey, no fair splashing in the eyes!

               Before anyone can answer, another kid (P.J.) renews the 
               battle, whooping a karate cry, and slashing at the water 
               with his hand like a little kung-fu warrior, advancing through 
               the waves.

               CLOSE ON MATHEW, SPLASHING BACK

               He hits the water, which sprays up suspiciously pink. He 
               stares at it, surprised.

               CLOSE ON P.J.

               His hands are dripping deep pink, the red matting his hair, 
               running into his eyes. He looks down. The boys are surrounded 
               with a deep pink slick, their little bodies ringed by a 
               spreading stain of blood.

               ANGLE ON SHORE, A TOURIST AND HIS WIFE

               He's pointing frantically out to sea.

                                     TOURIST
                         Something in the water. Right there! 
                         Didn't anyone see it?

                                     WOMAN
                         There's blood in the water.

               ANGLE ON BRODY

               He leaps to his feet, nearly knocking Ellen over, and starts 
               for the water.

                                     ELLEN
                         What is it...?

               Brody is pelting towards the water. He kicks sand over an 
               annoyed Mrs. Kintner, who looks up, just in time to hear 
               Brody's bellow.

                                     BRODY
                         Michael! Sean! Out of the water. 
                         Everybody out of the water! Michael! 
                         Get out!

               His urgency communicates itself to the others. Ellen snatches 
               Sean up from where he's been playing in the sand. Other 
               parents are calling their kids, hysteria mounting. People 
               rush into the water, dragging their children and families 
               bodily out of the ocean. The first kids coming out of the 
               surf are frantically trying to wash the sticky blood off 
               their bodies. The sight of the red sends the beach into a 
               full panic.

               CLOSE ON BRODY

               He rushes into the water, up to his ankles, and suddenly 
               stops, unable to move into deeper water. He is urging Michael 
               out, holding his hands out to his son, who is slogging through 
               the surf towards his dad. He stands there immobilized by the 
               water, nervously helping people out of it onto the beach.

               ANGLE ON MICHAEL

               As he emerges from the water, Alex Kintner's raft washes in 
               behind him, ripped in half, the water pink, the foam spreading 
               the stain onto the sand as the wave breaks.

               ANGLE ON MRS. KINTNER

               Her voice rising into panic and hysteria with each unanswered 
               cry.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Alex! Alex? Alex...!


- Bill

3 comments:

teeritz said...

First of all, great blog! My big problem with "Jaws" is that I saw it at the cinemas when it was released back in '75...and have rarely set foot in the sea since. I was nine. Nice concise write-up on the first 20 minutes of the film. There's much going on and it's all told economically, but clearly. The biggest difference between film-making then compared to now is how films (and scenes) were allowed to breathe back then, before everybody decided that the audience's attention span was so short that scenes couldn't run longer than two minutes.
Spielberg's genius was well and truly set by the time he helmed this film and it's visible in virtually every scene.
Sorry, I didn't actually address the question!

Anonymous said...

One of my all-time favorites. So many great scenes, but the one with the most emotional impact is the one in which the grieving mother slaps Brody in the face. Turns the entire shark hunt into a man's quest for redemption...

BTW, the Quint-scene is a great reminder that the rule of show-don't-tell doesn't always apply.

wcmartell said...

1) There are 6 scenes before this one - so they average just seconds over 2 minutes each. They don't take longer, they just have more info cleanly packed in there.

2) That scene with Mrs. Kitner is the subject of a chapter in the Scenes book rewrite I'm working on.

3) Quint scene comes later this year!

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