Book Review: Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard

13:40 10 October 2012

Jaws: Memories of Martha

Jaws: Memories of Martha's Vineyard


(Titan Books)

THE role which Jaws played in the history of modern cinema cannot be downplayed or overlooked. Not only did it propel the career of young director Steven Spielberg into the stratosphere, but it helped create the concept of a “summer blockbuster” which has been a template for film scheduling ever since.

Before Jaws, studios tended to use the warmer months to distribute films they did not expect to perform well, but the success of Spielberg’s movie and Star Wars (1977) completely changed this approach, leading to the rise of the summer season of major releases.

Ask anyone what their memories are of the first time they saw Jaws, and you’ll inspire a host of fondly-recalled scenes which have passed into legend.

Whether it’s a skinny-dipping teenager becoming the shark’s first victim, panicking crowds on Amity beach, a head popping out unexpectedly from a submerged boat wreck, that legendary speech about the USS Indianapolis, or the final triumphant battle against the great white, there are so many incredible moments packed into this one film that it’s no wonder that Jaws is regarded as a movie landmark.

But travel back, if you will, to a time before the movie’s release, long before its impact on the cinematic world could be imagined, when the cast and crew descended upon the quaint yet isolated New England island of Martha’s Vineyard for what would be a fraught and challenging production throughout most of 1974, eventually running more than 100 days over schedule.

Throughout the filming, locals living on the island had unprecedented access to the process, with regular reports in the pages of the Vineyard Gazette newspaper, and many residents recruited to add to the cast, including the likes of Jeffrey Kramer as Deputy Hendricks, and Craig Kingsbury, an eccentric fisherman who played Ben Gardner and provided the inspiration for shark-catcher Quint.

Other locals were recruited to work as labourers and to assist with the special effects, and with numerous professional and amateur photographers among their ranks, this meant hundreds of pictures were taken during the course of the summer.

These photographs charted every step in the film’s development from the first scenes shot of the discovery of victim Chrissie’s remains through to a special island premiere of the finished movie on June 20 1975. In the pre-internet days the majority of these images were never published until the release of Jaws: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard offered a remarkable look at the film’s behind the scenes creative process.

Without question a labour of love by author Matt Taylor, himself an islander, it offers an insightful account of how the making of Jaws affected Martha’s Vineyard from the perspective of the local community, whose experiences would stay with them for the rest of their lives.

The candour of this content lifts Taylor’s book head and shoulders above your standard studio-authorised making-of book, and there’s a honesty throughout which ensures a much more accurate portrayal of the production process than would exist if it had been sanitised by Universal.

This second edition also includes an additional 16 pages of new material, including even more photos and anecdotes, and further storyboards from the collection of production designer Joe Alves, resulting in a weighty tome packed to bursting with goodies.

Given the way both the movie industry and society have changed over the past 35-plus years, it’s unlikely there will ever be another film which transforms an entire community in the same way that Jaws did, and for the images and experiences of this process to remain unseen in any media for years afterwards.

As such, what we have here is a once-in-a-lifetime account of the time a movie about a great white shark brought fame and fortune to a Massachusetts fishing community, and left a legacy which has never been forgotten. Unmissable.

* Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard, by Matt Taylor & Foreword by Steven Spielberg. Titan Books, published September 28 2012, £34.99.


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