Collins’ Crypt: Book Review - THE JAWS LOG

JAWS week isn't over until BC says it is!

Jaws week isn't over until I say it is!

I originally intended to include some thoughts on "The Jaws Log" along with last week's piece, which was originally more of a review of the new Blu-ray. But as that changed (and as I got too busy to finish the book anyway), I realized it'd probably make more sense to do a separate article on Carl Gottlieb's much-loved account of Jaws' chaotic production, as well as the writing process that saw major changes from the best-selling book by Peter Benchley. Originally released in 1975 to coincide with the film's release, the book was expanded for its 25th anniversary and then released in hardcover for the first time for its 30th. I read that one back in 2005, and to the best of my memory, this new edition (released with the new Blu-ray, for full circle's sake) is seemingly just a mass market paperback version of that one.

Now, of course I may be wrong; it's possible some footnotes were added, or perhaps there were minor bits sprinkled into the main text that were originally excised for one reason or another. But I'm pretty confident that isn't the case, as the principle players who have since died (such as Peter Benchley, who provides an introduction and is thus given a little bio as a co-author) are still written about as if they were alive. Since Benchley died in 2006, it seems if there were any information worth updating for this 2012 version that in no way could be chalked up to "it happened after we went to press" (such as the recent death of Richard Zanuck), it would be that. Thus, if you own the previous "expanded" editions, there's no reason to buy it again unless you happen to prefer the modified cover.

But own it you should, if you are a fan of the film (and who isn't?) or enjoy behind the scenes accounts of a film's production. As both the film's screenwriter and an actor (he played the newspaper editor), Gottlieb was in unusually close proximity to the entire production, as he was there for the early stages of the screenwriting process (as well as the constant re-writing) as well as on set for those few scenes featuring his character, instead of being holed up as many writers might be. Thus, his detailed script notes (and access to the script supervisor's "bible") and the fact that he wrote the book less than a year after it actually happened, allowed for accuracy that is highly unusual for these sort of things. Usually, this material is generated later for an anniversary retrospective (the "oral history" format is quite common), where memories have become hazy or mixed up, rumor becomes "fact," etc.

For example, let's take Gottlieb's account of the Indianapolis speech. For years the exact author of it has been debated, with folks taking credit or giving it to others. Gottlieb's account has the benefit of his on-set notes as well as the shooting process, and as far as he is concerned, Robert Shaw is essentially the author. John Milius, Gottlieb, Spielberg, and others all took a crack at it, but it was Shaw who combined them all and worked out a version of his own, and what we see in the film is the result of two takes (from different days), as the first time Shaw was a bit too drunk to do it justice (he did the second day's take sober). As the film's only credited screenwriter, discussing a scene that is not even in the novel (which means he could easily take the credit), I would say that the fact that he's chalking it up to an actor is all the evidence you need that it's the truth, or at least the closest version to it we've heard. As for Milius, Gottlieb claims the man's only line that made it into the finished movie was "I'll find him for five, but I'll kill him for ten." He also believes the scar-comparison scene probably originated with Milius, as it too does not appear in the book.

However, it should be noted that he spends more time on pre-production than on-set filming (and certainly post, which is only netted a single chapter; John Williams is barely mentioned), and thus some of the early parts of the book can be a bit over-detailed - just get to the shark not working! In fact, unless you are interested in novel rights, you might as well just skip the bulk of the first chapter entirely, as he just rambles about the bidding for the book, which to me is like explaining how salt is made before providing the recipe for chicken soup. It's dry enough when you're first starting to read the book, but it's comically head-shaking when you compare it to the single paragraph about the guy who gave the film a vital part of its life with his iconic score.

The best bits come during the on-location pre-production process, where he explains life on Martha's Vineyard, how outsiders are treated, and the various issues that they had to overcome in order to pull off the needs of their film while dealing with meddlesome townsfolk who didn't care much for these Hollywood jerks. He tells a pretty wonderful anecdote that sums it up perfectly - there was an expectant mother who was forced to give birth on her boat while waiting to dock, and the baby was brought to the island moments after being born. He lived there his entire life, was a pillar of the community, died there of old age... yet the first line of his eulogy was "A stranger to these shores...". That man lived all but a few hours of his life on the Vineyard and was still thought of as a stranger - what chance did the Jaws crew have? It's interesting not only from a "behind the scenes" perspective, but it also helps clarify the attitude toward the chief that the Amity townspeople had in the film itself.

There are also some hilarious anecdotes, like when a local zoning guy told the production team that they didn't have the right permit to build a particular set, and that it would take 6 months to obtain. Joe Alves (the production designer, who went on to direct Jaws 3D) asked how long it would take for their fine for building without a permit to be issued, and he was told 6 weeks. Since they wouldn't need the set for that long, he thanked the guy for the info and happily finished building the set. I was also charmed by Gottlieb's casual observations of the crew (and some of the actors) hooking up with local girls in taverns - they might have removed their sets and such, but from the sounds of it, the Jaws crew certainly may have left a permanent mark on the island in other ways.

Then there are his accounts of the more famous stories, like the sinking of the Orca, losing a day's shooting because of too many boats in the camera's range, and Spielberg arranging to be quickly whisked away during the shooting of the last take on the island so that he could avoid being dunked in the water. These tales, covered on the DVD and such, are part of the Jaws legend, and if you love the movie they never stop being interesting. Ditto for the various problems with the shark, and he goes into quite a bit of detail about what exactly caused those issues (certain types of paint causing it to peel underwater, barnacles forming on the underbelly, etc). It can be a bit technical at times, but if you want to know what made that shark work (or not work, I guess), I have yet to come across a better account.

The book is aided by some pretty great behind the scenes photos, including a few of the first version of Hooper and Brody looking for Ben Gardner's boat - which originally took place during the day and included Gottlieb's character, a scene that was never completed and thus has never really been seen. There are also 25 pages of notes (first added for the 2001 edition, I believe) where some minor corrections and further information are offered, such as the contributions of Howard Sackler, who was the first to rewrite Benchley's draft and asked to remain anonymous back then. These notes also give credit to the two actors playing the guys who sacrifice a roast trying to capture the shark, who went unbilled in the film (Gottlieb also reveals the role a future director played in this scene - a fun anecdote that has somehow escaped being part of the common knowledge lore about the movie). The film's credits and the author bios round things out.

As I said, there's no real need to buy it again if you have any of the previous anniversary editions, as it's pretty much exactly how I remember it from my reading seven years ago (I'd check but my copy was lost by a friend who borrowed it - at least now I can stop giving him shit). But if you haven't checked it out yet, by all means correct that at once. The quotes from the likes of Bryan Singer, Steve Martin, and Rod Lurie aren't just hype - it's a nearly essential read for any fan of this classic film.