Saturday, October 3, 2015

Final Boarding of the Orca

It was a two-fer and I'm done.

One June 20, 1975, "Jaws" opened and I joined the legions of naïve Americans who stood in line (Riverdale Plaza Theater for me) to see a film that would not only change our perceptions of a sunny vacation at the ocean but actually give us the summer blockbuster, which hadn't existed before.

This summer, Bowtie had done a 40th anniversary screening of a new print, but I'd had plans that didn't involve a swim down Memory Lane.

But here I was today, going back to see "Jaws" for the second time in my life, this time at the historic Henrico Theater, where I paid my $1 at the box office and was given a bright orange (why not red, like blood?) ticket which did not say "Jaws" but did have two shark images on it.

Riverdale Plaza Theater got nothing on the Henrico.

Walking in, a uniformed man took my ticket and mentioned that boxes of popcorn and sodas were available. Since when, I asked? I've been to the Henrico plenty of times in the past and they were adamant about no food.

"Since today," he said. I passed on principle.

After taking a seat behind a family unit, the pre-teen informed her mother that she'd never seen the movie. "Sure you have. Your Daddy watches it all the time," Mom corrected her. Looking at Daddy, slumped in his seat shoveling popcorn in his gob, it occurs to me that maybe she just doesn't like watching TV with Daddy.

"You're gonna need a bigger boat, right?" daughter asks to make sure they're discussing the same thing. That's the one.

I certainly didn't recall that the movie began underwater with scenes of languid sea grass and coral being buffeted by the lapping waves around them. The first time I saw it, it would have given me no indication of the terrifying suspense that was to follow.

As always, I got a huge kick out of the period details: the pale blue plastic ashtray on the nightstand, the nurses in full white uniforms and nursing caps, Olivia Newton John music playing at a beachfront bonfire party, people nonchalantly smoking in hospitals.

And, whoa, Richard Dreyfus, impossibly young at 28, the dapperly-dressed Amity mayor wearing a seersucker blazer covered in tiny white anchors, almost no one on the beach wearing sunglasses, but also so many pairs of truly awful '70s glasses.

When Brody's eyeglasses get knocked off by the ocean while they're on the boat, all I could think of was thank goodness. On the other hand, it was a pleasure to see all those guys in bathing suits that weren't enormously baggy board shorts like all the men wear today.

One thing that seemed glaringly different was Robert Shaw's character Quint (never more amusing than while singing, "Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged women"). I remembered him as an ancient, grizzled man of the water and when he came onscreen this afternoon, my first thought was, wait a sec, he's not that old.

It's all in your perspective. Shaw was, it turns out, 48 when he made that movie. Clearly my perception of what constitutes grizzled has changed dramatically since my first viewing.

Another big difference in my perception of "Jaws" today is the result of all the Hitchcock films I've seen in the interim. It's doubtful at the time that I'd made the connection between Spielberg's restrained use of showing the evil while letting the music do the terrifying and the master he'd undoubtedly stolen that brand of suspense from.

When Roy Scheider's character Brody first says, "You're gonna need a bigger boat," the audience at the Henrico applauded. I know for sure that didn't happen at the Riverdale.

What did happen was people, adults and kids, walked out in a state of shock after being exposed to the mechanical shark technology of the mid '70s. It felt like everyone was talking about whether they'd ever go back in the ocean.

While it hadn't stopped me then and it's sure not going to stop me now, that wasn't on my mind as I was leaving the Henrico Theater.

I've seen "Jaws" twice now, on opening day and on a soggy Saturday while Joaquin continues to make his oceanic presence felt. And you know what?

I'm good. I know now that two times is all the "Jaws" I need for a lifetime.

Maybe I'd feel differently if I was a bow-legged woman.

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