Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Things I Just Noticed: Jaws

I just finished reading The Jaws Log, the behind-the-scenes production diary of Carl Gottlieb, Jaws' co-writer and co-star that was released in 1975 during the initial theatrical release. Gottlieb has a nice humorous self-effacing writing style and is candid in his honesty. Reading the book, a document of the filmmaking process of what would become the biggest film of all time (until Star Wars came out two years later) from gestation period to production snafus and ending not with the blockbuster release, but the successful test screenings, got me in the mood to rewatch Jaws for the billionth (?) time.

And this weekend I did; still great, one of my all time top ten films, blah blah blah. However, this time I noticed something that hadn't registered in any other of my countless viewings. It occurs during the credit scroll at the end of the film.

In case it's been sometime since you watched Jaws, after Brody kills the shark (whoops. spoiler!) Hooper pops up from hiding on the bottom of the ocean. The Orca is destroyed, so the duo swim back to land on the weight loading barrels that they used to bring the shark up to the surface.

"I used to hate the water"
"I can't imagine why"
And cut to the credits over a stationary shot of the beach of Amity Island:
I like to think that I pay attention during the end credits of movies, but perhaps due to my reading of The Jaws Log beforehand and having greater knowledge of the crew of the film and their individual personalities I paid extra close attention (by the way, classy move by Spielberg to give both the special effects artist Rob Mattey who created the shark prototype and production designer (and future Jaws 3-D director) Joe Alves the first shared credit at the end of the film) and hey, what's that in the upper just right of center of the frame? It appears to be two people emerging from the ocean (click to see it larger):

Wait, is that Brody and Hooper returning to dry land? It hard to see by still images, but when watched live, you can safely ascertain that there are in fact two moving bodies, but it's never clear as to who those bodies belong to. Knowing Spielberg's tendency to neatly tie up everything in the end of his films (ie the son surviving in War of the Worlds), my assumption is it's a nice bone to those who, like himself when he was a young cinephile, obsess and rewatch films over and over that our heroic duo make it safely back to shore and are not eaten by Bruce's wife or brother.

So my question, is this something that everybody is aware of? I don't ever hear it brought up in readings or discussion of Jaws. I've only seen the film theatrically once, so another viewing on a large screen would probably give a clearer answer, either way I am sure this was shot second unit without Roy Schieder or Richard Dreyfus.

Here's the final frame of the film, so you can decide for yourself.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Getting Your Dirty Stinkin' Paws off Death

Charlton Heston 1924-2008

I may have my ideological differences with Charlton Heston but I found him a fascinating figure who proudly stood for his beliefs no matter how out of step they may have been. It's my sincere hope that some of the focus in his obituaries take a momentary detour from the discussion of his NRA presidency to mention his work with the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

Strangely, I have never seen two of Heston most famous roles: neither the eponymous Ben-Hur nor Moses in The Ten Commandments (he parts a sea at some point, right?), I guess I am not big on the biblical epics. I do, however, have a real affection for his work in 60's-70's era sci-fi: the first two Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, Soylent Green, films which blended social commentary, albeit sometimes didactically or awkwardly, into their story's fabric, issues including racism, overpopulation, pollution and nuclear warfare. Hell, Apes screenwriter Rod Serling's final twist proposes that the outcome from war and dependencies on weaponry is the destruction and devolution of the species, making it a tad ironic then that it's star would become the spokesperson for the rights of Americans to bare arms.

Heston was one of the last great "personality" actors. Performers who may not necessarily have the "chops" to convincingly mutate into whatever minute charactarestics a role requires a la your Daniel Day-Lewises (though I would have loved to see Heston doing Daniel Plainview) but bring with them a larger than life presence. William Shatner may be one of the last of this species still around.

In celebration of Heston's work, I present some posters from Heston's films from the Planet of the Apes and after era, an era where Heston filmography is rife with genre pictures, just because this is one of my favorite era of movie advertising.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fools Need Pitying: The Great Performances

On this April Fool's Day whilst we fall for the various pranks foisted upon us, let's pay tribute to the one man who sees our faults, yet still shows compassion for us, pity Laurence Tureaud aka Mr. T. For those keeping notes at home, that's first name: Mr, middle name: the period, last name: T.

Before I go any further, I would like to emphatically state that this is not a goof or a smarmy ironic entry, but a tribute to a man who I have genuine respect for and a performance I honestly consider transcends the quality of the film that contains it.

A little history on the man who would be T: He was born the youngest of twelve children, grew up in a Chicago project, gained a scholarship to Prairie View A & M based on his athletic skills only to be kicked out, joined the Army, became a bouncer and levied that into a career as a bodyguard for celebrities including Steve McQueen, Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali. His unique look: the mohawk, which was a tribute to his African heritage and the gold chains that apparently cost in excess of $300,000 which he claims he wore to identify with slaves by wearing "chains" around his neck, a claim I am not sure I entirely believe, a more likely reason being pride in self success after growing up in poverty, combined with his charisma and natural showmanship (his business card as a bodyguard proclaimed "Next to God there is no greater protector than I") lead to a small role in Penitentiary II and later to his role as Clubber Lang, Rocky Balboa's nemesis in Rocky III.

And his performance as Lang is one for the ages. What more it triumphs over writer-director-star Sylvester Stallone's betrayal of the character due to his complete lack of interest in ambiguity. Mr. T obviously channeled a lot of himself into Lang, a cocky but authentic fighter who is disgusted at the way Balboa sullies the sport he loves by making a mockery of it and showing more interest in his celebrity. When Lang clobbers Balboa in their first match, he finds the media making excuses for the fallen white hope and is rightfully offended. But Stallone is not content with making Lang's force sufficient enough motivation for him to regain his devotion to his sport (or recapture the eye of the tiger, if you will) through homoerotic training montages with old rival Apollo Creed, no, he has to demonize Lang by making him a contemptible bully who physically threatens Balboa's wife Adrian. One sees a not so subtle racist subtext in Rocky III, the self-assured black man = villain, the black man who steps aside after getting beaten by our white hero and aides said hero into defeating self-assured black man = the good guy sidekick to our hero. Despite Stallone's meddling, Mr. T makes Lang's perspective relatable and motives genuine (save the aforementioned berating of poor helpless Adrian). Mr. T is giving a performance in another movie, (an arguably better) movie in which Lang is the hero. It's the right decision and shows maturity for what is essentially his acting debut.

After Rocky III catapulted him to national fame, Mr. T was cast as B.A. Baracus in Stephen Cannell's series The A-Team. What struck me as I rewatched some old episodes recently, besides the fact that it has the greatest ratio of usage of firearms to people not being killed by said firearms, is the sense of humor Cannell imbued the series, not a surprise when you realize he was also the creator of The Rockford Files and The Greatest American Hero. And Mr. T was definitely in on the joke, making B.A. a hard-ass, but a hard-ass that has many fears including a deadly fear of flying which requires the team to constantly sedate him through stealth methods. Its this very sense of humor that makes Mr. T's career after his popularity waned towards the end of the 80's and the series lack the air of desperation that surrounds such decade casualties as the Coreys. He frequently makes appearances on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and is willing to poke fun at his image in commercials and movies, a form of survival mechanism that his past probably well prepared him for.

Mr. T should also be applauded for his humanitarian achievements. He's spent much of his life exalting the cause of physical fitness for children which was always more personal than many cause celibre as athletics saved him from a life of crime or drugs. In 2005, in honor of the victims of Hurricane Katrina he decided to no longer wear his trademark jewelry in public. His greatest achievement though was beating a rare form of cancer which he was diagnosed with in 1995.

Should you ever decided to revisit Rocky III or catch it for the first time upon one of it's numerous cable showings, look past the image of Mr. T you have and pay attention to the honesty he gives to Clubber Lang. It's a great performance and if you can't see that, you're a f...well, you know what you are.
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