Book Review: Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard

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Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard (Expanded Second Edition, 2012)
By Matt Taylor
ISBN: 9781781163023
Titan Books
September 2012
312 pages

The introductory statement “Matt Taylor’s coffee table book Jaws:  Memories from Martha’s Vineyard (Expanded Second Edition, 2012)” perfectly sums up the pros and cons of the mammoth volume.  This beautiful looking book contains a treasure trove of visual artifacts ranging from on-set photographs and newspaper articles to pre-production sketches, storyboards, and letters.  If you’re familiar with The Beatles Anthology (2000) or The Making of Star Wars:  The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film (2007), this book has a very similar look, layout, and – let’s face it – bulk.  The format of these large volumes, whose magazine-like layout emphasizes the visual over the written word, is perfect for casual reading.  However, as an immersive, cover-to-cover reading experience, these types of books are often anxiety inducing.  The chapters themselves are lined with sidebars, elaborated with photographs, and encapsulated by pull quotes.  The print is small (because pictures>paragraphs) and the wonky text columns lead your eye all over the page.  It’s the type of format that doesn’t make it easy for the reader to digest (keep in mind, I’m not bashing Taylor’s work here).

What makes me lament this formatting decision is because the story Taylor is telling is quite unique.  This might surprise some, but Jaws:  Memories from Martha’s Vineyard isn’t The Making of Star Wars or The Beatles Anthology with regard to content.  It doesn’t try to tell the macro-story of Jaws (1975) by looking at how Universal and Lew Wasserman gave birth to the modern blockbuster.  In fact, the film’s post-production is hardly touched upon (it takes up the last five pages of a 312 page book).  Instead, Taylor spins his story around the town of Martha’s Vineyard and how the movie affected the community.  We’re told stories about how the community was concerned about being at the center of the media spotlight after the Ted Kennedy scandal and how fights over building permits nearly shut down the production…until the filmmakers hired some locals (or maybe the community’s leaders just had a change of heart).

Memories of Martha’s Vineyard is the story of Benjamin Hall, a local man hired to be one of the Coast Guardsmen whose line “Oh shit!” was cut from the film and Carla Hogendyk, a local who started a relationship with production designer Joe Alves and felt like she was part of Steven Spielberg’s family.  Then there’s local legend Craig Kingsbury, who informed Robert Shaw’s performance as Quint and became the physical model for the dead fisherman that Brody finds.  Essentially, this isn’t the behind the scenes document of Jaws that has the “greatest hits.”  It gives us a set of anecdotes, Alves’s storyboards, hundreds of photographs, and an abundance of insight into the construction of Bruce the shark at the expense of ignoring the grand narrative behind the making of a classic film.  To some, that may be a fault.  But to folks already obsessed with Jaws?  That’s a gift, regardless of its beautiful but frustrating large format.

About Drew Morton 39 Articles

Drew Morton is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication. While his students call him “Doctor” or “Dr. Drew,” he is unable to help people suffering from medical ailments (he can only prescribe films) or from sexual dysfunction (although he can be quick with a double entendre). His film criticism has appeared in Cultural Transmogrifier, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Pajiba.

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