Amity Island, summer 1974. During a midnight swim with friends, Chrissie (Susan Backlinie), a student, is pulled to the bottom of the water by a mysterious force. The next day, her boyfriend went to the police station to report the disappearance.
Just appointed chief of the local police, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) discovers the victim’s remains. There’s no doubt about this former New York agent, this is a shark attack. He refers to Larry Vaugh (Murray Hamilton), the mayor of the city. In order not to panic the tourists, the police officer must conclude that the young student died accidentally. The truth is stifled.
A few days later, it is the turn of a child to disappear before the eyes of the inhabitants gathered on the beach. There’s no hiding the truth. A man-eating shark prowls the shores of Amity Island. Swimming is then banned and drastic measures are taken to contain shark attacks.
Martha’s Vineyard is the set on Amity Island.
The resort of Amity Island is a fictional place imagined by Steven Spielberg. For the purposes of the film, the film crews set up their cameras in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Situated in a coastal conservation area, the small town reached its heyday thanks to whaling in the 19th century. Moreover, it smells good this time, because the place seems almost frozen in the past. An ideal place to film Jaws since its tides are low and its shallows are not far from the coast. These two elements made it possible to film all day long.
The police station
South Water Street and Davis Lane, Edgartown, Massachusetts, USA
The police station where Martin Brody does his job is right here. If he watches the beach every day, his offices are in this area of Martha’s Vineyard. This Massachusetts island has only 15,000 year-round residents. In the summer, its population increases, thanks in particular to tourists.
The places are famous for hosting stars and presidents of the American republic. Ulysses S. Grant, Bill Clinton or Barack Obama often stayed there. Jackie Kennedy-Onassis had a house in Aquinnah. His son John and his wife Carolyn died off the island in a plane crash.
The Brody house
267 E Chop Dr, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568, USA
When they arrived in Amity Island, Martin, his wife Ellen (Lorraine Garry) and their two sons Mike (Chris Rebello) and Sean (Jay Mello) moved into this beach house. Be careful though, the house has changed since the film.
Based on Peter Benchley’s 1973 novel of the same name, Jaws was a long and trying shoot for the actors and crew. It began on 2 May 1974 and was to end on 25 June. It was then extended until September 15 and cost a total of $12 million, almost five times its original budget. Considered the first blockbuster of world cinema, the film brought in $470,000,000 at the box office. For two years and before the arrival of the first Star Wars, it was the biggest hit of all time.
The attack on the little boy
Joseph Sylva State Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, USA
After the attack on the first victim, the case is hushed up so as not to panic anyone. A few days later, Alex Kintner (Jeffrey Voorhees) is having fun with his friends on the beach. He decides to get on an air mattress and starts to move away from the edge. His kicking attracts the shark. He is then swallowed up by the monster. Brody’s asking everyone to get out of the water quickly. It’s panic.
For the purposes of the film, three polyurethane animatronic sharks were built by Robert A. Mattey. Soon they prove to be very fragile. The creator of the octopus from 20,000 leagues under the sea, created animals more than eight metres long and weighing more than a ton and a half, nicknamed “Bruce”.
While the shark had to be present in all the horror scenes, the shots were withdrawn because they were unsuccessful. The film’s editor, Verna Fields, then suggested to Steven Spielberg to suggest scenes of tension without showing the shark but only with music and shots of the sea.
The ferry pontoon
58 Dock St, Edgartown, MA 02539, USA
The day after Chrissie’s death, Martin joins the mayor of Amity Island on this dock. He tells her about the victim’s remains, but Larry Vaughn doesn’t want to hear about it. For him, it is important that many tourists come to his city for Independence Day on July 4.
In 1976, Jaws won three Oscars at the ceremony: best editing, best sound and best music. No sooner had shooting been completed, the American director entrusted the soundtrack to John Williams, with whom he had already worked on Sugarland Express. This was the second award for the composer after that of A Violin on the Roof. Since spectators only discover the shark for the first time by stealth when it attacks its fifth victim, it took a scary music to suggest the shark. Thus, John Williams developed a theme around two notes, E and F, reminiscent of a heartbeat. This process is inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s opening of The Rite of Spring.
The shark enters the water
Jaw Bridge, American Legion Memorial Bridge, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, USA
While Amity Island has been made safe, the swimming areas appear to be safe. However, the giant shark is spotted swimming there and then diving to the depths. This is also where the Brodys’ son was traumatized by the first attack.
The town of Martha’s Vineyard also hosted other filming. Thus, a scene from Sabrina, directed by Sydney Pollack was filmed there. The Farrelly brothers put their cameras there for their feature film Two in One in which Bob and Walt work on the island. Finally, in X-Files, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) frequently visits his parents who live there.
The equipment store
N Water St and Main St, Edgartown, MA 02539, USA
When young Kintner died, Martin and the local authorities decided to ban swimming on the beaches of Amity Island. For this purpose, the police officer makes “Beach closed” signs installed at the entrance to the areas. He goes to this store on the corner of these two streets to buy supplies.
Along Water Street large houses with rooms on the top floor were built, called “widows’ walks”. The film’s scriptwriter, Peter Benchley, and Steven Spielberg make cameos in the feature film. Thus, the former appears as a journalist, while the director lends his voice when Ellen tries to communicate with her husband by radio. Note that the filmmaker’s dog played the Brodys’ dog.
The Quint shipyard
North St, Edgartown, MA 02539, USA
Towards the southwestern tip of the island is the Bart Quint (Robert Shaw) shipyard. This is where the shark hunter lives and maintains his boats, including the Orca. On board this ship, the owner, Martin, and Hooper set out in pursuit of the shark in order to kill it.
In the scene where oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) finds himself in an underwater cage, he was doubled by a small person to make the shark (a real one) look bigger. The structure of the House of Quint has been dismantled but the appearance of the place still allows us to imagine it.
Dangerous Reef, Queensland 4805, Australia
In addition to Martha’s Vineyard, the director decided to shoot the underwater scenes with sharks in other seas around the world. Thus, Santa Catalina Island in the Channel Islands in California welcomed the film crews, but they also went to Australia in the Dangerous Reef (Far West Coast and Spencer Gulf).
Shark photographers Ron Taylor and Valerie Taylor filmed these underwater scenes. For the sequence of Chrissie’s death, in post-production, her interpreter Susan Backlinie sat in a bathtub filled with water and reproduced her screams. To heighten his panic, Steven Spielberg was pressing him on his head.
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By Anthony Thibault
From the "Casimir generation", Anthony has kept (in addition to a passion for Goldorak) a taste for inventive images, experimentation and curiosity. Passionate about travel and pop culture, he co-founded Fantrippers with Nicolas Albert to share his passion with as many people as possible.