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Keith Tse


  • Writer's pictureKeith Tse

Masterpiece (3)

‘Jaws’ (1975). Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, among many others in his amazing career. This man must be one of the most if not the most successful film director of all time, since the commercial success of his work is absolutely colossal (it is interesting that he is also one of those great men who suffered from hard failures at an early stage of his career, namely being rejected by film school twice, which is pretty crazy considering what he has achieved since). There are very many masterpieces in Spielberg’s career, though he has always credited Jaws (1975) as his breakthrough, since it was this movie that catapulted him to international fame and secured his status as a world-class director, after which he received countless and unending offers and could pretty much do whatever project he wanted. I am sure that many of us have seen Jaws (1975) before, and it is truly a remarkable work of art. I mentioned before that the creative process of masterpieces need not be on a par with their reception, since there have been many famous examples of arduous and difficult processes which led to some all-time artistic landmarks. Jaws (1975) is no different in this regard, since the making of it, according to all those involved, was the hardest thing that they had ever undertaken. The one biggest problem they faced was that the shark, which was mechanically pieced together, did not work AT ALL. Spielberg has said that he originally envisaged this to be a Godzilla-type movie with a huge monster in the form of a shark terrorising the waters of Martha’s Vineyard (a hugely significant spot for linguistics, since this was where the great William Labov conducted his seminal sociolinguistic research- more on this at another time). Due to the practical difficulties with the shark, however, Spielberg and his entire cast and crew were thrown into total desperation, since they simply did not know what to do or how to cope without the shark. He then allegedly did extensive and radical re-writes to his script and re-invented the whole movie on the spot. As the shark did not work, he had to learn how to imply the shark without actually showing it, which was, in many ways, the making of the movie, since it gained a lot more quality from suspense rather than from explicit horror. The shark does not really appear till over halfway through and throughout the first half it is implied terror which makes it truly frightening. When it does appear, it becomes a different movie altogether, as commonly noted by critics that Jaws (1975) consists of two halves, the first being a tense drama similar to the Swedish classic ‘Enemy of the People’ where the main characters are trying to warn the community of hidden dangers amidst corruption and intervention from the officials, while the second being a ‘Moby Dick’ kind of movie where the main characters become obsessive hunters whose quest is to hunt down this giant sea monster. The production of Jaws, therefore, like The Godfather Part I, was a total disaster, since, due to the shark not working and radical modifications to the story, it went way over-budget and way over-time. Everyone was under pressure bot during and after production, and no one had much (if any) faith in the final product either, given how it was made. In fact, numerous people (Spielberg in particular) thought that this would be the end of their careers, since they felt that they had been ruined by the shark. It turned out, however, that this would be the making of their careers, since Jaws (1975) became an instant commercial success and garnered almost unprecedented popularity throughout the world, all due to the unanticipated problem that the shark, which was originally intended to be on the forefront of the film, simply did not work. No one expected that, but that was how it was meant to be. It is funny how sometimes the way things do not work out the way we want them to may turn out to be the key to success. Huge credit goes to Spielberg for his resourcefulness, creativity and flexibility in dealing with difficult situations, but ultimately the source for his breakthrough success comes from a totally unanticipated disaster which not only messed things up for him but also ended up making him. In situations of despair, one must not lose faith and should perhaps take Spielberg’s success as inspiration for how to solve problems and give them our best shot, which may lead us to places that we have never dreamt of. Another funny paradox.

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