Sunday, 12 July 2020

The Jaws Log (30th Anniversary Edition)

Original 1975 Dell paperback edition
Author: Carl Gottlieb
First Published: 1975
File size/Pages: 3400KB / 227pp
Ebook Publisher: Dey Street Books
Ebook Date: Jun 2010

Staying on a Peter Benchley theme for this review, we have The Jaws Log, an account of the making of the movie from his 1974 novel.

The author is scriptwriter, Carl Gottlieb, who polished a script originally written by Benchley (there are a few other contributors that Gottlieb covers during the course of the factual story). He was originally asked to star in the film, already being friendly with director Steven Speilberg opened an opportunity to pick a role. He was sent over a copy of the script, and chose Amity town official Meadows as a role he could see himself in.

Once production started though, it was clear that Gottlieb's talents at writing would need to be utilised to add depth to the working script. When the crew moved wholesale to Martha's Vinyard, Gottlieb went with them, and eventually ended up sharing a house on the beach with Speilberg. From his time employed as both an actor onset, and as the new scriptwriter he kept copious notes and diaries. The Jaws Log was the culmination of those recordings and memories.

There is a 30th Anniversary Edition of this title available in eBook format. This also incorporates introductions and footnotes from a previous "25th Anniversary Edition" so is currently the most comprehensive version available. Pictures are included in the eBook version.

Gottlieb tells a great story. His insights into the making of one of the most famous films in movie history are packed full of details, occasionally funny and sometimes downright gobsmacking. The impression you have is that it was a miracle the film ever got finished. Even though he is clear to point out that that the money men never outright threatened to pull the plug on Speilberg's project - you get the feeling that the pressure on the director was immense.

The author also includes some interesting points of view on the local townspeople, some of whom played their part (in more ways than one) in creating the fictional place of Amity Island. He holds no punches in highlighting how a certain proportion of the community were either dead set against the filming, and who took actions to try make life as difficult as possible, or who were more than happy to take the greatest advantage they could of the Hollywood 'types' (e.g. stealing, striking for more pay or deliberately sailing into camera shot to try and spoil filming).

As an actor Gottlieb struggled with the juxtaposition of trying to improve the script whilst realising that his own role on screen would need to be reduced to achieve that aim. What a problem to have, being paid two salaries, but writing yourself out of a picture to make it better!

L-R: Dreyfuss, Gottlieb, Hamilton, Scheider & Spielberg
The principal cast spent a long time together, especially when they were waiting for "Bruce" the shark to get into fighting shape. The sections where Gottlieb relates how tedious and bored everyone gets, and how the frustration and tension builds to boiling point (Scheider going mental because someone forgot his newspaper for example) are great. At the same time there lots of tales of how the cast would gather in the evenings to while away the nights that help you understand just how that camaraderie transferred from reality to screen.

Sometimes the technical side of the story interfered with the telling of the tale, but to be honest I didn't mind those sections too much. If you are as interested as I am in film-making then these will be just as fascinating.

All in all, I found The Jaws Log to be a great fly-on-the-wall documentary book. It's not full of glossy colour pictures (there's a section of photographs, but most of them I'd already seen elsewhere) or a big coffee table type of tome, but it does a nice job of telling you what it was like being in the midst of a crazy project that ended up producing one of the best films you'll ever watch.

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