If I had to sum up this book in one word, that word would be ‘Big’. If I was allowed merely two words, they would be the words ‘Awesomely’ and ‘Big’ put together in that order. If I had to come up with a cool Jaws related phrase to underline this awesome bigness, it would be “You’re gonna need a bigger coffee table” (although, it would seem I have been beaten to that particularly obvious punchline). If however, I was allowed about thirteen hundred words; I would say this:
Sometimes, books come along (and a few have come through Filmwerk Towers recently), and are so lacking in real content, that they serve only the most basic fan need for more product. Publications of this nature are cynical exercises in extracting fresh revenues out of rapacious fans with a minimum of actual effort or expense. One gets quite used to this ‘rinsing’ approach with almost everything associated with modern fandom, and rampant exploitation by bean counter types is everywhere you look. It is refreshing then to come across a book that represents pretty much the total antithesis of that mode of thinking, and actually delivers a healthy wedge more than you would ever expect, even in a large (did I mention this book was big?), coffee table book like this.
Intriguing, wouldn’t you say?
Now then, firstly a word of warning: Whatever you do, don’t do what I did, and attempt to hold this book above your head and read it in bed. It’s called a table book for a reason people, and it will buckle your arms and crush your noggin if you even begin to fall asleep.
You have been warned!
Right then, from Matt Taylor and Titan Books comes the expanded 2nd edition of their amazingly mammoth, and (as I may have already mentioned), awesomely big book Jaws – Memories From Martha’s Vineyard. To describe this beastie as merely a vast compendium of behind the scenes production stills, seems hugely lacking in terms of the scope of this book’s actual coverage of all things Jaws related (or at least all things related to filming the movie on location on the island). It’s coverage is more akin to an almost hour by hour CCTV like omni-presence throughout the entire location shoot. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie blanketed in quite this way before, and the sheer weight, depth, and diversity of camera coverage, and commentary is quite breathtaking. There is a reason for this though, and it’s not to do with someone at Universal deciding to to cover it in this way with an army of staff photographers.
No, what we basically have here, is a fan made compendium of the pictures and anecdotes from the folks who were living on Martha’s Vineyard when Steven Spielberg, ‘Bruce’ the shark, and the rest of the Jaws production circus rolled in to town. The fan in question being the aforementioned Matt Taylor; an islander himself, and the architect and coordinator of this extensive and amazing collection.
In this way, the book comes at you from a refreshingly unique and unusual perspective. Those islanders who not only witnessed the production come to their little corner of offshore Massachusetts, but became active participants in it. Some contributors acted in the movie as extras, others were involved with behind the scenes production, and many had a hand in both. The book covers all manner of angles in immense detail, often to a point way beyond any reasonable expectation on the part of the reader. It doesn’t take long perusing the copious contents, to come to an amazing realisation. Although Jaws was indeed beautifully directed by Steven Spielberg; he was definitely the young skipper of an unexpectedly ponderous, unstable leviathan. One that threatened to sink his career on a daily basis, not to mention putting a sizeable dent in Universal’s future. In addition to the likes of Joe Alves (Production Design), and Bill Butler (Cinematography); this leviathan was clearly made all the more seaworthy by the all embracing support and enthusiasm of the Vineyard’s close island community. This synergy is evident in every frame of the movie, and became a quality that Spielberg successfully captured again and again, particularly in his earlier movies throughout the 70s and early 80s. I believe there is a case to be made that it was the immense life changing trauma of making Jaws that, while perhaps not providing him the tools, certainly honed and sharpened them into precision instruments for use on subsequent movies.
From Spielberg’s own foreword in the book, it is clear that, at the time; the pressure and stress of making the movie blinkered his awareness of much of the spirit and impact this book illustrates so abundantly. This is a shame, and Spielberg says as much. However, thank goodness that Matt Taylor and those who aided him, undertook this massive task, as any fan of Jaws is far richer for the experience of thumbing through it, even for half an hour.
It’s only when we stop to really absorb the never-ending scrawl of credits on a movie, that we begin to appreciate the sheer scope and complexity of the task of bring it to fruition. So many people make up the overall machine, and yet we tend to gravitate our feelings good or bad, towards that director’s chair. This is natural, he or she is after all, the figurehead and focal point. However, even though most of us acknowledge the fact that in reality, hundreds of people, in dozens of professions, are involved in bringing a movie to our screens; we often pay only mere lip service to it in our actions. Jaws, by modern bloated SFX blockbuster standards, is from a bygone age. It may have helped usher in the era of the modern summer smash; but in many ways, has very little in common with that genre in it’s modern incarnation. Despite this, Taylor’s book perfectly illustrates this ‘many cogs to create the clock’ aspect of movie making, but not just that; it’s also a wonderfully simple human mirror, reflecting the impact the movie had on so many ordinary, extraordinary people, whether they became intimately involved with it, or were just ‘there’ at the time. The book is quite holistic in that sense, and offers a greater recognition and appreciation of these events, over and above the lingering power of the finished article (and make no mistake, Jaws is still a very powerful, beautiful piece of work). Page after page, it delivers it’s treasures with warmth, heart, and brass tacks detail that surprises and delights throughout. As a fan of the movie; I found it engaging and provocative; absolutely busting with personal perceptions, insights and first hand experiences of this most famous of movies, by the people who experienced it. Each time I put the book down; I would think of how awesome it would be if similar love letters existed for so many other classic movies.
If I absolutely had to find a demerit (and although I try and do this in every review, I’m struggling here); I would love to see this book somehow spliced with additional personal anecdotal input from Spielberg. I know, that’s not the point, and as I said; I’m struggling. However, the ability to juxtapose the anecdotes and pictures in this book with Spielberg’s own memoirs without juggling two books (physically impossible), and manually cross referencing, would be really something. However, as it stands; the book is truly amazing (and big).
In conclusion, it is fitting that Taylor’s book is so amazing (and big), anything less would be a crime.
Nearly forty years after it first scared the willies out of folks, made an entire generation think twice before doing the splishy splashy at the seaside, and rendered at least one personal friend unable to even sit on the loo for fear of Bruce immediately biting her derrière; Jaws continues to amaze, delight and entertain. Memories From Martha’s Vineyard effortlessly becomes an essential companion piece, that no fan of the movie should pass up the opportunity to own. Unlike the cynical books mentioned at the top of this review; this monster will earn back its sticker-price every time you heft its generous pages open.