Sunday, July 25, 2010

June 7, 2010: Psychobabble recommends ‘The Jaws Log’

There are only three things that will get me to set foot in a church: a wedding, a funeral, or a book sale. One of the churches in my neighborhood in Jersey City hosts a book sale every Sunday, and it’s a great place to stock up on Stephen King paperbacks for 50 cents a pop (nice to know that you can still buy something for 50 cents, even if it is a well-traveled copy of The Dead Zone). Occasionally, the find is richer. I came home from one of my recent book-sale trips with a fifth edition of Carl Gottlieb’s The Jaws Log (1975). Gottlieb performed a thorough polishing on Peter Benchley’s original Jaws script, appeared in the movie as ethics-devoid newspaperman Meadows, and bunked with director Steven Spielberg in a log cabin throughout the movie’s long and harrowing production.

The writer is upfront in the preface that his journal-like document of the making of Jaws was composed after the fact, as he was kept plenty busy with constant script rewrites while the film was being made, but that does nothing to detract from its enjoyment or educational value. Not only is The Jaws Log a funny, insightful look at how the first blockbuster came to be, but it’s also a handy film-production primer for novices. Gottlieb follows the project from Benchley’s initial sale of his best-selling novel through the first tremendously successful exhibitor screening of the completed film. As this book was published the same year Jaws was released, it is the first word on the creation of a film that most acknowledge changed cinema profoundly (though, many would argue, not for the better).

Gottlieb as Meadows with blond actress as blond character

Much of this material has been repeated often since, particularly in the essential 1995 documentary The Making of Jaws, but Gottlieb touches on some areas usually skipped, like Richard Dreyfuss’s incorrigible womanizing and partying, Benchley’s press-battles with Spielberg and Jacques Cousteau (!), who questioned some of the sharky science in his novel, and an incident in which Murray Hamilton (Mayor Vaughn) bent to pet a dog after an arduous day of shooting only to discover it was an irritable skunk with an ass-full of stink.

The Jaws Log is still in print and original editions remain available on Amazon, so maybe it wasn’t the rarity I initially believed, but Jaws fans will still eat it up. Get it? Eat it up? Like a shark eats up people? Get it?

Stay tuned for more Jaws-related Psychobabble right here on Psychobabble as the movie’s 35th Anniversary approaches toward the end of the month…
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