written by Carl Gottlieb
FFC rating: 9/10
by Bill Chambers The Jaws Log is not, in fact, laid out in the manner of a sea captain's journal, though it does offer a blow-by-blow account from a privileged vantage point of a voyage fraught with peril. Written by Carl Gottlieb, who was given a role in Jaws, piped up about its story problems, and soon found himself the latest in the film's line of screenwriters, The Jaws Log first hit shelves in 1976 but was recently reissued by Newmarket Press in a "25th Anniversary Edition" appended with fifty-four annotations of the "Where are they now?" variety. Not much else has changed; Gottlieb has "left the original narrative intact, except for minor spelling changes and a few stylistic fixes." (Oops: he overlooked "Johnny Weismueller [sic].") One is so hard-pressed to find the equivalent of The Jaws Log--a nuts-and-bolts look behind-the-scenes told with plenty of humour and grace--these days that reprinting it is better than nothing.
Few films have had so many apocryphal anecdotes attributed to their production as Jaws. Gottlieb addresses only one rumour directly (The Jaws Log came out, after all, before a lot of the hearsay would earn urban-legend status), the "Indianapolis" monologue, but reading his book will clarify most things, such as the extent to which editor Verna Fields deserves credit for Jaws' greatness and whether the shark was long cloaked from audience view for practical reasons. (While the several "Bruce"s, the nickname for the mechanical Great Whites the film deployed, were prone to malfunction, it was always Spielberg's intention to keep the shark offscreen until the suspense would profit from his appearance.)
Gottlieb begins at the beginning, when producing partners Richard Zanuck (son of Fox mogul Darryl F.) and David Brown (husband of COSMOPOLITAN editor Helen Gurley Brown; in a double-take-inspiring aside, Gottlieb reveals that prim David kept a second job penning "Cosmo"'s racy cover blurbs), hot off the Academy darlings The French Connection and The Sting, optioned Peter Benchley's novel Jaws, then still in galleys but a predicted best-seller. "Next to Peter Benchley, Robert Redford looks like some swarthy Mediterranean type," Gottlieb says of the trés East Coast, Harvard-educated Benchley, who adapted his own source material for the screen and, like so many novelists in the same predicament, couldn't see it in cinematic terms. Then came playwright Howard Sackler, but before him, Spielberg, brought faithfully on board after making The Sugarland Express for Zanuck/Brown. His flair for unseen predators was ably demonstrated by Duel, also a factor in his hiring--and one reason he had briefly reconsidered Jaws, fearing that he'd be typecast before his career could get off the ground.
The movie business, we discover through Gottlieb, hasn't changed much since the early-Seventies. Today's casts and crews bemoan fast-tracked pictures on tight schedules as if the trend is new. Spielberg felt unprepared to commence principal photography before July 1--the studio suggested a start date of April 10. Ignoring such omens as the near-drowning of a jockey standing in for Hooper (the Richard Dreyfuss character) in test footage, the decided compromise was May 2 to avoid a looming SAG strike (sound familiar?). When Team Jaws arrives to shoot in exclusionary Martha's Vineyard, they are shot at by a New England eccentric, confronted with having to move scenes ahead that as yet only exist in Gottlieb's imagination (necessitated by water that's too cold to accommodate the extras), and anger a skunk. Murray Hamilton's run-in with Pepe Le Pew happens with 180 nerve-wracking pages to go.
Small wonder that The Jaws Log's reputation is as one of the best making-of books out there. It's a fascinating time capsule neither fluffy nor dishy (though expect to hear some Chappaquiddick gossip), and Gottlieb never lapses into self-pity, even with the occasional concession to missing out on most of the fun being had between takes (poker games; heavy alcohol consumption; even matchmaking--Jaws went so far over schedule that many a grip arrived on "Amity Island" single and returned home in wedlock). The narrative maintains a surprising omniscience: Gottlieb supplements his observations with researched accounts. Only once does he get defensive about his empirical advantage, and that's in a sprawling endnote detailing the origins of Quint's (Robert Shaw) "Indianapolis" monologue. Here he tells us to dismiss Spielberg's well-documented claim that John Milius is responsible for the speech, which might help explain why Spielberg and Gottlieb, so close-knit on Jaws, are merely "cordial" twenty-six years later. With an introduction by Peter Benchley and a middle section of captioned photos. Originally published: October 18, 2001.