There’s still a little bit of “Jaws” in most of us.
The book (1974) and movie (the following summer) were, after all, supposed to be based in the Hamptons and sufficiently scary to make us all take pause.
There is a certain helplessness to swimming in the ocean, not being able to see what is underneath. I don’t recall ever witnessing a shark attack growing up out here; we never saw the bloody stumps of a mangled kid gushing with blood while the mammoth beast, teeth glistening, ravaged it. In Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, the imagery was so compelling it was difficult to shake.
A word about Spielberg: He has a house in East Hampton and used to spend a lot of time here. He’s a really nice guy. He probably doesn’t like you, but I get along well with him. I’m the one who gave him the baseball cap —but I digress. I’m sure he was well aware that a shark scare would cripple the summer economy out here, so the movie was filmed in Connecticut and the locale given a fictional name, Amity Island.
If the film suffers from anything, it’s the fact that it was made in Connecticut. You can tell by the extras in the beach scenes. Connecticut people aren’t completely inbred, like in Boston, but they are nonetheless pretty pasty-looking and they say stuff like “I’ll be darned” and “Can you imagine that?”
In one of the beach scenes, the sheriff (played by another local, Roy Scheider) is running up and down the beach trying to alert the crowd that a shark is on the water, all the people are standing around saying, “I’ll be darned” and “Martha, pass me that coconut lotion, will ya?”
Now if it were filmed in New York, as Peter Benchley intended, you would have had a bunch of college-aged beer drinkers yelling, “Yo, you wanna shark? I gotta shark right he-ah.”
If we ever made a remake, our shark would be part of the LGBTQ community, meaning he/she swims in the oceans AND the bays (not to mention canals). The sheriff would have to take a civil service exam to keep his/her job, and there would be no guns allowed in town. The boats would be solar-powered.
And the shark would choke to death on balloons.
A couple of my friends who are commercial fishermen never go swimming at the ocean beaches. They have told me many times there are sharks out there, right behind where the waves break. The only reason they don’t strike is the sickening slick of coconut suntan lotion that percolates like the stuff in the Love Canal. Put another way, humans, especially those of us in the Hamptons, are not the preferable food source of discriminating sharks. We’ve priced ourselves out of the market.
If they do make another “Jaws,” I expect Steve will have a part for me.
Back in 1986, Alan Alda, who was extremely popular because of “M*A*S*H” and lived in Water Mill, made “Sweet Liberty,” a movie about an author who writes a book about the Revolutionary War. It was filmed in Sag Harbor, which looks nothing like North Carolina. To his credit, Alda used dozens of locals as extra. The problem was, we all had New Yawk accents.
They changed the names on all the stores’ signs and tried to make Sag Harbor look like North Carolina. They filmed for weeks, shutting down parts of the village to do take after take.
I lived in an apartment above Main Street at the time. One day I was dropped off down the block after work — I was a house painter — and wanted to change and take a shower before going to my second job, which was as a barfly. But there were no civilians allowed for half a block because they were filming. I waited around for 10 minutes and decided they had no right to deprive me of my own home unless, of course, I got paid. Let’s just say impasses transpired, and when Alda yelled, “Action!” I strolled down Main Street right in the middle of the scene. About 12 people starting screaming at me, at which point I raised my middle finger, shouted an obscenity or eight, and disappeared behind a door.
When the movie came out, it wasn’t very good but all the locals went to see it wondering who among us made the final cut. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t, and there went my “Best Supporting Actor” statue.
Worst of all Michelle Pfeiffer, the comely female lead who purred and gushed at the very sight of me, never learned my name, which is no doubt why she never called me.