JAWS Through the Murky Lens of the Water
Duuun dun duuun dun….dun dun dun dun dun dun
Those simple musical cords brings hair raising chills to a whole generation of movie goers. For those of us who were lucky enough (which is sometimes debatable) to have grown up with Jaws, John Williams score allowed the entire movie to flash in our mind. It’s a movie we have seen countless times before, are well familiar with the turning points, and of course can’t forget that memorable ending.
As familiar of an audience member as we are, though, do we really remember everything that happened throughout the movie? Those classics that often get embedded in our brain at such an early age tend to fall into the category of “watching not watching” when we view it. As the summer comes to a close, and I think back on my experience at Alamo Drafthouse’s JAWS ON THE WATER event, I can’t help but wonder what took me so long to watch this film in its entirety.
If you’re not familiar with one of Alamo Drafthouse’s signature Rolling Roadshow (or Birth.Death.Movies as it is now called) events, JAWS ON THE WATER is exactly as the title implies; the audience watching the movie Jaws (or any of it’s sequels) on the waters of Lake Travis in Austin. The event is full of crowd pleasing elements like a BBQ dinner, audience participation games, and collector memorabilia of the event (like a shark themed inflatable tube), all the while ending the night showcasing the movie in a glory that’s all its own. I’ve watched Serenity at a ghost town and enjoyed the first class treatment on a train before Snowpiercer, nothing was as powerful as watching the terrifying Jaws on the water.
A quick back story on my opinions of the film: I love this movie, but it has always scared the shit out of me. I blame it for my 15 minute window where I can thoughtlessly enjoy being in the ocean before the fear slowly starts sinking in. I also have seen this movie countless times, but I can’t dictate each scene. Like most people who grew up with this movie, I’m not the only one with these opinions. To some I was crazy to even consider watching it on actual water. To be fair, a lake is not an ocean, but that also doesn’t mean there aren’t things lurking beneath (look up alligator gar, it’s a real thing in Texas fresh water). The possibility of experiencing fear only intensified my eagerness to participate and I was not disappointed.
While fear did play a part, largely thanks to the inclusion of “shark” scuba divers who livened the experience, but the main joy was being fully engrossed in the movie in a way that is entirely unique to this film. To say the audience can finally fully appreciate everything about this film is an understatement. This experience helped this film become not just something you flip past on TV on the Fourth of July, but something that flourished alive in all its glory.
I have to admit, I don’t remember the last time I watched Jaws all the way through in one sitting. This isn’t to say I haven’t seen the film recently, but because I am versed in the content of the film, I don’t fully pay attention. It’s not difficult to admit that this is a disgrace to film, but it’s also something that many of us are guilty of. Our brains replace the missing scenes from memory so our conscience doesn’t feel like it’s missed anything.
To the contrary, however, we have missed everything. Re-watching Jaws reminded me of so many scenes that I didn’t actively remember were there. I got a whole new meaning to the film, and experienced a deeper connection than before. Sure, you can attribute that growth to my age advancement, but focus plays a huge part. For example, when Quint (Robert Shaw) is drunkenly, and emotionally, telling the story of his experience in WWII and being stranded out in sea with sharks, your emotions are unhinged. Before this most recent viewing I remember there was a huge backstory that lead up to Quint’s thirst for justice in hunting sharks, but it wasn’t until I was watching it on open water that you fully understand the impact of that speech. In a setting like what Alamo creates with it’s events, movies move into the realm of quintessential artistry and not just a summer blockbuster.
The swaying of the tube up and down in accordance with the ever changing current of the water allowed for another dimension of an adventure. If you were brave enough to allow yourself to be swept away by the current, and possibly your loved ones, you never knew where you were going to end up. You could have found yourself isolated in the front, floating with no one there to help you and more vulnerable to the scuba diver’s “attack.”
Our sensory influences can have a powerful impact on our emotions, and that doesn’t stop when it comes to films. Considering that film is a media that normally only uses two senses, any time you include another anything is possible. Sure, the water adds the fear element, but there is a piece of the audience that can relate to the characters and their urgency to get to those who have floated away.
Jaws came out in 1975, but there were several young people at the event with their families and friends. Not only did this event become a family event, but it was great to see more than one generation enjoy the film. Events like these allow all generations to understand the importance of the movie, and how many of these films changed the course of movie history. It’s hard to believe that there was a time in which the Summer Blockbuster didn’t exist, but Jaws changed all of that. JAWS ON THE WATER became much more than just another Alamo sponsored event.
I highly recommend trying to catch this classic film in a new classic way. Even if you’ve already been before, there’s no reason why you can’t go again. The way audience experiences movies goes beyond the physical, it allows the movie to really take a hold of the fan in unexpected ways. Movies are made by a huge community of creative people to allow us a chance to experience something new, and we owe it to the filmmakers to allow their films to engulf us in all of our senses. It’s also important we allow ourselves the opportunity to re-watch the film and lets us explore the films in new ways.
Even if we’ve seen a film 100 times, there is always something fresh we haven’t seen before. Alamo has alway done an amazing job of curating films, but it’s up to us, as audience members to preserve them within ourselves.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images by Jessica Hudson