Just when you thought it was safe......
I can't remember the very first time I saw the girl pulled under the water or the man calling in vain for his dog that had been swimming; but the experience of seeing it will be forever ingrained in my mind.
' Jaws' not only made me fall in love with the movie itself, it made me fall in love with movies full stop. For those of you who have seen the movie this post will hopefully make a lot of sense. For those who haven't, I apologise in advance - but you might want to go to the local video rental store or stream it - whatever you do....it needs a big screen. It's an old movie now but if you forgive some of the slightly ageing effects this is film making at its very best.
Having seen Jaws many times growing up I always wondered where the mysterious island was that was haunted by this great white shark - a shark known affectionately by the production crew as 'Bruce' after Steven Spielberg's lawyer. When the opportunity arose to take a summer holiday on the east coast, I couldn't resist suggesting our destination be Martha's Vineyeard - an island just off the tip of Cape Cod - and the location used to film Jaws.
Throughout our week on the island I don't think there was a day where I didn't drag the family to walk here or there or to drive just around a corner....all for a quick glimpse of those locations that had made such an impact on me.
The very first night Ruth and I took a stroll along the beach just by our rented house.
As the Atlantic waves crashed onto the shores I realized that this was the place where the film opened - a group of friends sitting around a fire on the beach, playing guitar, singing songs - and not noticing the girl and boy that ran off for a skinny dip. The very sea where the girl swam and the bell tolled ominously out on the water. The very sea where the girl violently disappeared under the water. The very sea where the shark took his first victim. The very spot where a movie legend began.
The islanders on Martha's Vineyard have a strange relationship with the movie. Nearly 30 years ago it made a critical difference in saving an island that was struggling financially. The vast majority of the cast were also locals, thrust from obscurity to being featured in the movie that defined what it meant to be a summer blockbuster. But, whilst it's in their DNA, there is still a sense of trepidation of making much of it. Why? For the same reason islanders were nervous when Hollywood first approached the islands representatives many years ago. How could an island dependent on holiday makers swimming and boating in its waters be known for a horrific killer shark that could kill you in an instant? As a result you don't see a theme park or memorabilia shops or signposted locations. Instead there is a quiet acknowledgment that it has played a defining role in the islands development. So for an avid fan I had to do some homework to find those places that had been etched into my memory.
The main road from our rental home to the town of Oak Bluffs has a beautiful lake on one side and the sea on the other with its clam waves lapping the shore. We parked on the roadside just by a bridge that carries the road over the entrance of the lake from the sea.
This was the beach where the little boy was attacked as his mum searches desperatley for her son. The bridge is where the woman in a fearful and timid voice suddenly cries out 'shark' as the dark fin of the great white swims into the lake. I ran along the rocks where the islands police chief runs after the sudden realisation that he sent his son to boat in the lake.....
Even though every rational part of my body knows that the film was fiction,
as we swam in the beautiful waters off Martha's Vineyard I couldn't help but glance over my shoulder, scanning the water for that fin!
The nearby town of Edgartown was the town that's the focus of the film - where Brody the police chief marches down with his 'beach closed' signs.
The ferry terminal at Vineyard Haven is the very place where hundreds of tourists arrive in the movie for the holiday weekend....unaware of what lies ahead of them.
Perhaps my favorite location was the tiny 3 car ferry ferry that takes cars and passengers across the short stretch of water to the island of Chappaquidick.
The little fishing village at Menemsha was site of Quints shack - the rough sea dog who leads the band of three men to capture and kill the shark.
This little port has the tiny wooden gangways that I remember. And it has the spot where you can look out through the outlet to the sea....where those 3 men do battle with a true force of nature.
Martha's Vineyard was chosen primarily because of the waters off the coast were the perfect depth and the sea bed was a sandy bottom.... essential to operate 'Bruce', the breakthrough in technology that was the mechanical shark. Despite all this, the film itself was a nightmare to shoot - taking around 9 months instead of the initial 6 weeks envisaged by an optimistic production company. For a very young Steven Spielberg this movie could have very nearly broken him. Instead, he created movie history and accelerated his journey to become one of the greatest directors of all time.
As I stood on the cliff tops overlooking the sea off Oak Bluffs I could imagine that frustrated band of actors and crew trying desperately to commit to celluloid this movie that was in mind of a young hot shot director.
Despite the challenges of getting a wary island community to agree to shooting and despite one of the toughest productions in the history of making movies, Steven Spielberg created one of the greatest movies of all time, and made me something of the movie buff that I'd like to think I am.
For me, it felt like a right of passage to visit these locations. I loved the fact that it was all so understated. I really felt like I was discovering those locations for myself. I could imagine the location scouts seeing the same thing 30 years before and having that sense that this was the place.
I am very grateful to Ruth for her patience as I tracked all this stuff down and for the nth time exclaimed 'that's where they shot.....'. I will remember Martha's Vineyard as a wonderful place for our family holiday and a unique way to experience some movie history.
Will we come back to the island? Well you know what they say - just when you thought it was safe...