Review by C.J. Bunce
In time for the 40th anniversary of the movie Jaws, Titan Books issued an updated edition of Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard, a rare and unusual chronicle of the making of a film. Told via photographs and interviews from the locals who helped literally make the film, from construction crews to performers tapped to play key roles in the movies, Memories offers yet another view of the making of the first modern summer blockbuster.
What differentiates this book from other works on this movie (or any other movie) is the “local” perspective. Instead of giving the standard Hollywood view of the “making of” a movie using interviews with the crew and producers as you’d normally find on the TV and Film shelf, the authors, Jaws memorabilia collectors Matt Taylor and Jim Beller, take a historical research approach. They rely on primary source material, through hundreds of hours of interviews with every islander who would speak with them, newspaper clippings from 1974, scrapbooks and photo albums that have sat on shelves for 35 years, including plenty of information never before seen by the general public. The result is a story told in photos rarely seen for any film or film franchise–something you’d only find from years of books published about Star Wars, Star Trek, and the Indiana Jones movies.
The story is told chronologically, day by day from the selection of the filming locations on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts to pre-production and on through the wrap-up of filming. The memorabilia and ephemera pictured includes everything from the remnants of the actual boats used in the movie to the more mundane, like checks and contracts for day laborers. Yet every piece is interesting, like candid Polaroids showing Robert Shaw’s first day on set and Spielberg at the cabin he lived at during the shoot. The experience of sifting through all that remains of the production is a bit like spending a weekend at a small town local library researching any historical event from a town’s past.
The lives of the residents mimic the efforts by Peter Benchley to chronicle the people and politics of the fictitious town of Amity in his novel (previously reviewed here at borg.com). Only unlike Benchley’s annoying and intransigent residents, the islanders in real life, although private, more often seem to have delved right in to participate in the production efforts.
Most astounding in Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard is the use of locals for key roles in the film. Who knew that the actress that played the grieving Mrs. Kintner–whose young son becomes the shark’s second victim–was played by local drama teacher Lee Fierro, who had to be convinced to play the role, and only if they re-wrote all her dialogue? And then there is the fellow that works with Quint, who follows him around with his dog in tow. He was a local tapped because of his own unique Northeast look and mannerisms. A foreman in charge of all the props was local, as was the manager of all the boating activity.
Taylor and Beller also include comments from art director Joe Alves and screenplay writer and actor Carl Gottlieb, and others, to fill in any missing pieces in the story, as well as a short forward by director Steven Spielberg.
Here is a video trailer for the book: