Review by C.J. Bunce
A feat of Carl Gottlieb’s contemporary, firsthand account of the making of the movie Jaws, called The Jaws Log, is that the author had not planned on writing the book during the production and yet his resulting work is a modern classic. After all, how could he have known the movie he was writing the screenplay for would be the kind of success to warrant a “making of” chronicle? Yet after production, with the buy-in of director Steven Spielberg, Gottlieb, who also played the newspaperman in the film, played a real-life journalist, amassing enough notes and anecdotes to pull the book together. Along with extensive interviews from the film crew and town locals at the shooting location in Martha’s Vineyard, the result was a step-by-step look at filmmaking, considered by many as one of the best “making of” books ever produced–originally published in 1975 just after the blockbuster was born. Forty years later the account holds up well. X-Men series director Bryan Singer has called The Jaws Log “like a little movie director bible.”
If The Jaws Log is your first foray into the making of the movie Jaws, you’re likely to have the same response. It’s no surprise Gottlieb was a successful screenwriter: Gottlieb is a superb storyteller. And if you’re wondering about the source for all the laughs that separate the tension in the film, you’ve Gottlieb to thank for much of that. Again, no surprise, as Gottlieb also wrote for The Bob Newhart Show, All in the Family, and The Odd Couple, as well as the screenplay a few years later for Steve Martin’s The Jerk.
We can also thank Gottlieb for gutting so much of author Peter Benchley’s novel that didn’t work (we recounted the elements earlier this summer in our Retro Review of the novel here at borg.com). The success of the movie, coupled with the absolute silence from critics for cutting and re-writing so much of the source work, is Gottlieb’s true legacy.
If you have read everything else ever written or produced about Jaws, many of the stories he tells will not be new. But consider that Gottlieb’s The Jaws Log was the original source for these stories. Jaws Memories, reviewed here at borg.com earlier this summer, sources Gottlieb’s work extensively, as do decades of “making of” features about the film, including those on the most recent Blu-ray edition. Like Logan Marshall’s 1912 publication The Sinking of the Titanic, The Jaws Log was released amazingly fast after the film opened. Gottlieb’s stories are the stuff of the disaster genre, too, and the analogies to that earlier sea catastrophe do not go unnoticed.
Initially Gottlieb was hired as an actor to appear as Harry Meadows, the local newspaperman featured extensively in Benchley’s novel. Longtime friend and confidant Steven Spielberg would enlist him later to redraft the script, fleshing out the roles of the key characters. Gottlieb recalls how, ironically, his edits reduced the role of Meadows (who barely remains in the final cut in the Town Hall corridor and the first shark catch scene). A particularly entertaining story has Gottlieb recounting one of the original scenes that made it to film, but to ultimately hit the cutting room floor. In the scene Meadows is on a boat with stars Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider and stumbles headlong into the ocean, almost to be caught up by another boat’s propeller.
A thirtieth anniversary edition was published with updates in footnotes, and although a version is referenced as part of a “Shooting Script” series, The Jaws Log does not include a script or even excerpts of the script. But the book should be required reading for students of film. Pick up a copy here at Amazon.com.