There is no shortage of articles commemorating the release of Jaws on June 20, 1975. From Vanity Fair: "40 Things That Wouldn't Have Happened Without Jaws." The Atlantic: "The 40-Year Legacy of Jaws." Gizmodo: "40 Years of Bad Science: How Jaws Got Everything Wrong About Sharks." Variety: "Jaws' 40th Anniversary: How Steven Spielberg's Movie Created the Summer Blockbuster." The list goes on. And on.
In Dallas, the 40th anniversary of Jaws' debut passed months ago -- March 26, date of the movie's first-ever showing in front of an audience. The test screening took place at the late, great Medallion (now a Kohl's) following a Towering Inferno showing. Spielberg had been here the year before, with The Sugarland Express, and things had gone well. He called the Medallion his "good-luck charm."
Tales are legion about a sweaty palmed, full-of-Valium'ed Steven Spielberg pacing the back row, terrified that his movie starring a rubber shark wouldn't play. Legend has it the Alex Kitner scene settled his nerves: A man ran out of the theater, vomited in the lobby, then returned to his seat. "That's when I knew we had a hit," he said. So the story goes, anyway:
The Medallion, Spielberg once told The Dallas Morning News, "was where I heard the first screams caused by watching Jaws, and it was music to my ears."
The Dallas screening, the director recently told The Guardian, "was the first time I realized that the shark worked, the movie worked, everything about it worked. The audience came out of their seats. Popcorn was flying in front of the screen twice during the movie. And then I got greedy and thought, gee, could I make the popcorn fly out of their boxes three times? And that's when I shot that scene in my editor Verna's pool. I had this idea that maybe when Richard [Dreyfuss] goes underwater to dig the tooth out [of the sunken boat], what if Ben Gardner's entire head comes out of the hole? And so I shot it in her pool with a prosthetic head and a plywood boat."
Here, the official recap from Joseph McBride's Steven Spielberg: A Biography, as told by the late Richard Zanuck:
Spielberg returned to the Medallion with Close Encounters of the Third Kind; again, nothing but cheers. But when 1941 flunked its test-screening at the Medallion, where the audience wasn't sure what to make of a comedy that wasn't particularly funny, that was that. No more trips to Dallas.
Jaws returns to the big-screen this weekend courtesy TCM; most theaters around town are screening it at least once tomorrow, many twice. But 40 years ago today Jaws opened locally in just two theaters: the Inwood and the Promenade.
I didn't see it on a big screen until June 1979, when it returned to the drive-ins and neighborhood single-screens. In my case it was the Preston Royal, current-day site of the Spec's that used to be a Blockbuster. We went on a whim, my mom and her twin sister and my brother Michael and cousins Greg and Christie, after lunch in the old burger King that used to sit in what's now the Gap-Neighborhood Services-etc. parking lot. The marquee -- promising "JAWS Held Over" -- beckoned. We begged; the moms relented.
I was 10; my brother, 7. I think my mother regretted taking us long before Ben Garnder's leg made a cameo appearance. Taking the 11-year-old to the NorthPark tomorrow. Best movie ever, man.
DVD extra: In April 1975, Peter Benchley's book was among three banned by the Dallas Independent School District. No doubt because of the sex scene that caught the 11-year-old me quite by surprise.