Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why Jaws Is the Greatest Film of All Time

You're probably expecting me to say "Because it's about fucking sharks," but it's so much deeper than that.

See, in 1935, the Council of Nine met in Rivendell (a small cafe in Pasadena) to discuss the future of the film industry. The Council included such revered filmmakers as Cecil B. Demille and David O. Selznick, as well as total assholes trying to be all counter-culture by having no middle initial, like Orson Welles. Howard Hughes couldn't make it due to a previous engagement with complete insanity, but sent a jar of urine to represent the interests of psychotic multi-millionaires in his stead. These illustrious names were gathered together in response to a looming threat to the art of film: the Ring of Profits.

Hollywood had been laboring under the oppressive Hays Code for years already. It was a compromise they had been forced to make, but they had underestimated the heartbreaking cost of censorship. They had expected the Puritanical restrictions to fade away as viewers demanded better films, more challenging films, or at least more titties. With enough pressure from audiences, the studios would be forced to reconsider asinine limitations on cleavage width when faced with the cold reality of a bottom line. Eventually the people would rise up with their pocket books, in support of great cinematic art.

Only they didn't. Audiences soon revealed themselves to be more interested in a cartoon mouse than in Of Mice and Men. They preferred watching a waddling man with a Hitler 'stache and a bowler getting run over by a runaway cart to seeing Jean Valjean lifting that cart off its victim. And above all else, they demonstrated their ravenous desire for the empty, saccharine puppy-love of a musical fairy tale over the raw passion of a once-in-a-century romance.

And that was it. The Ring of Profits had fallen into the wrong hands, and all was lost for Truth and Beauty in the art of film. The Council of Nine knew this, and so they drafted a secret agreement with the studios, hoping against hope that, somehow, on occasion, great films would slip past the studio guards, until the day when filmmaking became affordable enough for people like Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith to be able to say "Fuck the studios, I'm doing this in my god-damned backyard with a camcorder and finger puppets."

There are few who know the full contents of the Council's agreement with the studios, but much can be deduced from observing the history of film. They clearly prescribed a number of plot requirements. This is why in any action or war film, the funny guy dies; why in any love story, only the best friend can die; and of course the most damaging plot requirement of all: the requisite love interest.

It doesn't matter if the film is a documentary about Cheese Puffs, there has to be some sort of romance going on in there somewhere. You can't just go into space with 2 other people and not fall in love with at least 1 of them. And let's be honest, who among us has taken a purely platonic road trip with our college buddies?

Which brings us to what makes Jaws so completely bad-ass: there is absolutely no love interest in the story whatsoever. And it would have been so easy to add one, wouldn't it? You had the skinny dipping couple at the beginning, you had heroes who could have had girlfriends or sexy personal assistants, you had an entire town full of attractive young beach goers to pair up willy nilly. But all that romantic crap would have gotten in the way of valuable shark time, so Spielberg was like "Fuck it."

Keep in mind too that Jaws isn't based on some real-life story the writers had to pretend to be true to; it's based on a novel. A novel that had a fucking love interest side-plot. That's right, in the book, police chief Brody's wife fucks the oceanographer Hooper, adding a layer of bullshit tension between two of the heroes fighting the Great White. But again Spielberg, in a ballsy move that proved he not only had taste and vision in his pre-Crystal Skull days, but also testicles bigger than anyone else in Hollywood, gave the middle finger to superfluous romance and opted instead for, you guessed it, more shark attacks.

The result was the unquestioned greatest water-based thriller of all time, the invention of the PG-13 rating and, in this writer's humble opinion, one of the greatest films of the 20th century, particularly in terms of pacing, tension-building, and just getting down to god-damned business with the shark hunting.

In a world where even films about the founding of a company whose founder is still alive and able to call "shenanigans!" (and not just call it but post it on the Facebook wall he fucking invented where it can be read by all of humanity) connect everything in the plot to some empty romance the writers extracted entirely from their own asses, it's indescribably refreshing to come across a film that gives it to you straight. No dopey romance that wouldn't last through the end of the credits, no unsurprising dick move by the jilted ex, no stopping in the middle of the peak action sequence to kiss the girl. Nothing that makes you think the film should be subtitled Jaws: and some other stuff no one really cares about.

It's called Jaws, and that's exactly what you get. Thank you, Mr. Spielberg. Now for God's sake, please retire before you find some way to fuck it up.

Respectfully yours,

S. Misanthrope

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