The First Movie I Ever Loved
On a hot summer day in Lubbock, Texas I fell in love. I didn't realize it at the time - who does, really? But I knew I felt different that afternoon. I was only seven years old, but I would never be the same. It was the afternoon that my mom took me to see Jaws.
My family is a theatrical family. My dad worked as a theatre director and my mom was also a director as well as a writer. Dad worked for community theatre organizations and taught in college and university theatre departments. I grew up backstage as a "theatre brat". I knew the pre-production hours that Dad put in, I knew the rehearsal process like the back of my hand and I knew how hectic and electric performance weekends were. I don't remember a time that I wasn't aware of live theatre and how it works.
I think that knowledge helped me in my movie viewing. I don't ever remember getting movies and reality confused. I always knew that the stories that I saw on screen were just that - stories on screen that had been filmed and played back. There were elaborate costumes and sets sometimes (I remember seeing Alice's Adventure in Wonderland and loving the animal costumes), but I knew that they were sets and costumes. I also knew that the actors on screen couldn't hear the reactions of the audience members in the theatre - there was a disconnect there. I knew that the storytelling was the same, but the medium was different.
And then there was Jaws.
FILM TITLE: JAWS. DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg STUDIO: UNIVERSAL PICTURES. PLOT: From the best selling novel by Peter Benchley: When a Great White Shark terrorizes a popular Massachusetts resort during the summer tourist season, three unlikely partners team up to hunt down the rogue fish. They are the new chief of police recently relocated from New York (Roy Scheider), a young university-educated oceanographer (Richard Dreyfuss), and a master fisherman, Quint (Robert Shaw), an eccentric, grizzled shark-hunter. Winner of 3 Academy Awards: Best Sound, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing. PICTURED: STEVEN SPIELBERG, ROY SCHEIDER.
I remember being totally swept up in the story and being scared in all the right places. I thought Quint was gruff and Hooper was cute. And the shark, of course, was terrifying. So how did I fall in love? The last scene.
Watch it again. But first, remember what came before. Hooper had gone into the cage and the shark attacked the cage. Then the shark went crazy on the boat. Quint slid down the sinking boat into the jaws of the shark and was eaten and now . . . the shark's coming after Brody. Brody manages to stuff an air tank into its mouth on one pass and now it's heading his way again - chunks of Quint's flesh hanging from its teeth. It's coming. It's coming for Brody. But Brody won't give up without a fight.
(I can't embed this one, but I can link. Here's the scene.)
When the bullet pierced the tank and the shark blew up, the packed house in which I sat spontaneously cheered - just like Brody. I was so startled that I came out of the world of the movie. Movie audiences didn't cheer! Why would they? The actors couldn't hear them - there was no relationship between the actor and the audience because it wasn't live. How could a movie audience cheer for something that wasn't live? I was puzzled, but I was also captivated.
They could cheer and (at the closing credits) applaud because the story was told so well. There was a definitive three act structure. The story built, the characters were likeable and believable, so why SHOULDN'T an audience show their appreciation - even if the players were projected and not even present in the theatre? That experience showed me that a film could induce the same emotions and the same reactions as a live performance. It's rare, but it's possible.
So I fell in love. I fell in love with Spielberg and his storytelling. I fell in love with the medium of film. I look back on that afternoon and can, without a doubt, say that that moment shaped the life that I have now.