Part scrapbook, part movie history coffee table tome, “Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard” by Matt Taylor (Titan Books) is an exhaustive account of the filming of the 1975 Steven Spielberg classic “Jaws.”
The story of the difficult translation of Peter Benchley’s 1974 bestselling novel to the screen has been told many times — screenwriter Carl Gottlieb wrote an entertaining “Log” around the time of the film’s original release — but Taylor’s book gives the reader a unique, you-are-there perspective on when the movie was shot on Martha’s Vineyard.
The “expanded second edition” takes us from the first scouting trips of production designer Joe Alves in late 1973 through the opening of the movie during the summer of 1975.
Left unexplored in this book is the tale of Universal’s involvement in promoting a book it had purchased many months before it was published (indeed, the film was already in production when the book appeared in February, 1974).
Taylor’s primary interest is in the location filming on Martha’s Vineyard where he lives as a fifth generation native. As he points out, the film raised the profile of what was then a rather sleepy resort island, helping to transform it into today’s major tourist attraction.
“Jaws: Memories of Martha’s Vineyard” recalls an earlier era of Hollywood location filming when local people and the local press were much more a part of the process than they are in today’s locked-down public relations environment.
Many of the small but memorable roles in “Jaws” were played by locals and the studio left behind lots of memorabilia that is included in the book (Taylor’s collaborator, Jim Beller, started collecting material as a child right after he saw the film and maintains a website – www.JAWScollector.com - devoted to his hobby).
It’s fun to read about non-actress Peggy Scott, the Martha’s Vineyard woman who played Roy Scheider’s secretary with such good humor, and Jonathan Filly who was tapped to be the drunken boyfriend of the film’s first victim.
Because the book has so many pictures shot during the summer of 1974 it has a neat beach vacation time capsule value for anyone who was around at the time. The hairstyles, the cutoff jeans instead of bathing suits, the design of the T-shirts will strike deep nostalgic chords in baby boomers who were young at the time.
Taylor reminds us that “Jaws” was shot at a time of economic and political crisis (President Richard Nixon would resign that summer.)
“The screen adaptation and subsequent on-location production of ‘Jaws’ on Martha’s Vineyard would offer Islanders a much-needed respite from a grinding national recession by injecting millions of dollars into the moribund local economy. On a more profound level, the popularity of the film upon its release would hasten the Island’s transformation from obscure New England hamlet to place of international renown,” the author writes.
“Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard” is packed with photos and interviews involving the troubles Spielberg and crew had with the various mechanical sharks, a dilemma that worked in the film’s favor when the young director had to find creative solutions to suggesting the beast’s presence rather than showing it in much detail.