SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Jaws at 40: "REAL BLOOD AT THE BFI" Or, "Why I like Jaws 3 and 4 more than 2, but not as much as 1 . . !"

It’s hard to believe that JAWS is 40 this year. But perhaps even harder to believe is that JAWS 2 is 37, JAWS 3D turns 32, and JAWS: THE REVENGE reaches an incredible (as it seems like only yesterday) - 28!

When it comes to ‘favourite JAWS movies in order’ lists (these debates arise now and then in a shark fan’s life; almost as often as a Top 5 favourite ‘spider movies’ poll that for me has Shatner’s KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS always on top) I usually say that I like the 4th and so far final movie – ‘JAWS: THE REVENGE’, the second best. This comes just slightly below Spielberg’s untouchable original. And then it's Part 3, better known as ‘JAWS 3D' (more on why I like this one so much in a moment; and in my defence) before the 'slightly too screamy for me to love quite as much as the other ones' JAWS 2 comes bottom of the deep blue sea. (Even though I do still love it almost as much as all the others and, sometimes, I love it even more – this list isn’t perpetual you know!)


Part 3D always scores highly because I once actually cut myself in the dark on a faulty chair when it played on the big screen in London (in slightly awful, but still fairly good-awful, 3D). It was part of a 3D season (that included, equally brilliantly, ‘FRIDAY THE 13th Part 3 - 3D’) and before the medium became so familiar and probably overused in cinema. Look, we had Tomorrow’s World shooting ping pong balls at us and films like JAWS 3 or the demented brilliance of 1983’s METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN or SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE in 3D, and that was it for boys and girls back then. In retrospect, it was great!

In the 80s, this is what we thought was a 'forbidden zone' . . !

On the fateful day, I think back in the mid-90s, that I went to see JAWS 3D at BFI South Bank, proper blood actually flowed across the aisle, and it was all coming from me! I made a quick exit from the cinema, having first seen a guy on a blow-up rubber ring get his leg bitten to the bone (like sipping on the last dregs of a pint at last orders to get your money's worth; I didn’t want to miss any more of the film than I had to) when it became clear my hand was actually dripping, not just grazing, with red stuff. I then made a quite spectacular, 4D style, stumbling panic mode exit stage right; all the while knowing that blood was dripping profusely from my wrist as I attempted an Amity Island-like, shifty crab-style sideways crawl across a row of legs - to save myself from bleeding to death in a sold out Screen 3. 

I’m sorry if you are reading this now and remember that I bled on you that day; especially if you had a new white dress on or something - but I will deny everything if you send me a dry cleaning bill, so long after the carnage. And I can deny everything quite easily too as I'm not on record as having nearly died that night, at a crowded cinema next to the Thames.

The BFI ('British Film Institute', or NFT - the 'National Film Theatre' as it was known back then; a name that film director Michael Winner once said was far better than the updated BFI tag and that he was going to keep on using anyway, just to be difficult) offered me a little plaster in a broom cupboard of an office (that’s still there today, and that I still peer inside when I visit to see if they’ve stocked up on bigger plasters yet) but didn't bother writing about me in an accident book or similar, or take a picture of the Fulci-like gore to have a laugh at with their friends in the pub after work. (Or even promote any future horror seasons with: “Come along to the NFT's 3D season next month and see classic horror in all-new ‘blood-o-vision' – it's even more fun than 3D!”)


There was also no refund or bonus movie as a sorry for nearly slicing up my arteries on a rusty metal spike sticking out of one of their silly posh blue cushions. Or were their cushions red back then? I think they were - but then everything went red that afternoon in my world; red blood on the screen and red blood in the aisle. Everything: just red.

Probably even the 3D glasses I had on too, went red (as I smeared one lens with the blood that had run along my palm). And it may have felt, for a moment, like those glasses were made of that old-fashioned red plastic (representing my pain) on one side and a sickly green (representing my state of mind) on the other (the glasses we had on were actually, I recall to this day, tinted grey and made of flimsy cardboard – there were no thick plastic goggles to pay an extra quid for back in those primitive days!).

The strangest thing of all; I remember a lot of blood on the screen at the exact same moment I cut myself - it was a thrill ride, as critics love to say, for sure, and somehow went beyond 3D. Interactive action. Forget virtual sex in cinemas of the future - we need virtual shark bites; imagine 'Sharknado 27: Real Blood' and how exciting that could be (starring a former pop star like Miley Cyrus, in her late fifties). Or having the original Jaws in 'blood-o-vision' and experience being Quint being eaten on deck.

I added to that cinema's 3D season in ways no paying customer has ever done or could ever do since; I turned a big screen film screening of a Jaws sequel into a live performance. I bled for my love of film. I actually bled more than that ugly fat fish that gets eaten up by Jaws in lingering slow-mo (and with lots of dodgy 3D, blood and bone floating towards you out of the screen) right at the start. And all the cinema staff at the NFT (or actually, just one girl on the phone; looking a bit bored) could offer me was a free plaster that wasn't even big enough to cover up the wound I had, and went straight in the bin. I should have framed it and offered it up to the shop, or had it placed behind the bar like Quint’s trophy of a shark’s jawbone mounted on the ceiling of his fisherman’s shed.

I won't tell you why I like JAWS: THE REVENGE though, as that's even more personal . .

Except that I saw the trailer in the cinema ('This Time It's Personal' was the tagline) with my best friend from school after watching the Bond movie ‘THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS’ (the one that has an initially thrilling pursuit on horseback across the desert that goes on forever, and gets increasingly tiresome as it goes on forever; until you end up hoping that Bond just gets shot and dies).

I was desperate for the toilet (as we'd been to the pub before it started up, and no - on reflection - I also have no idea why the cinema was playing trailers at the end of the main feature, but maybe that's how they do things in Ashford, Kent!) and almost died from an internal bladder explosion staying on at the end; after Bond’s credits had faded out. In retrospect, I probably could have made it out and back during the credits but, ok – I admit; I was a bit of an 'a-ha' (the Norwegian pop band, not the saying!) fan at the time and thought I could last just a few more minutes to hear the title song one last time . .

And then, just as I was half sitting up from my chair, knees still a bit bent (and numb from the extended Bond horseback chase) – a trailer for JAWS: THE REVENGE came up! Oh my God…

Of course, I stayed on to watch. We all did. Nobody ever expected another JAWS movie after Part 3D. I still had the scar on my hand to remember the last ever JAWS movie by. But I think I became the world's #1 fan of the franchise at that moment of self-sacrifice - hands down. Or toilet lid up, or whatever.

And that pain I experienced, well, it was good enough for me to love something forever in return for. I gained a nice scar on my kidneys (Jaws 4) to match the hand (Jaws 3) that nobody else knows about; my little secret. The scars on Quint and Brody shown off in the first film of the franchise have nothing on mine.

And you know, as I sat there watching the first ever trailer for JAWS: THE REVENGE, there could only be two possibilities: it could be a really great movie. Or it could be a really, really great movie! I didn't care at the time (or since; I still love this film to bits - it’s terrifically entertaining and even a bit bonkers at times; just good old-fashioned bloodthirsty wet fun in the sun with added rubber fin, and I don’t care!).


All that mattered at the time was that I had made it through the trailer all the way to the end without an embarrassing accident in the back row. It wasn’t even much of a trailer (you may think) as it just had a single shot of rippling water and lots of voiceover chat (I don't think the movie itself had even been made by that point; it was still just a slogan in its mother's eye) but it was all the more tantalising for it.

And scary. Yes - I did just say 'scary'! Just the thought of not knowing what's under that water in those films always freaks me out, even if it's just something a bit fake and rubbery called Bruce ready to pop its fin out, bare its teeth, and go on a most unlikely revenge killing spree like he was about to do in his now officially promised fourth outing (like Bronson in Death Wish, but with more teeth). I have also carried on loving that trailer to the present day with a nostalgic glow, if only because I still remember being relieved (no joke intended) that I didn't die of bladder poisoning the next day.

And I was such a JAWS fan, that just knowing there was going to be another one soon, made my night. It was just a few minutes of sea up on screen, but hell - it was even better than the ticket’s true intent of a screening of Dalton's first effort as Bond (his follow-up; the grittier, ruthless LICENCE TO KILL is one of my favourites, so I can say all the mean stuff about the rather insipid LIVING DAYLIGHTS, and not feel so bad).


Somehow, all of the above, many years later, makes a kind of sense. It even feels like some sort of predestiny was in play (like in the Final Destination movies, but safer). Everything came together over time to make a whole: the blood; the pain; the beer; the trailer; the broken seat. It all led to me loving JAWS 3 and 4: THE REVENGE more than JAWS 2 (a sacrilege in most corners of shark fandom) right up to the present day. Also, to this day, nobody I have ever told my secret list of favourite Jaws movies to, has agreed with me. Mostly I just get told back that parts 3 and 4 are: "The pits!"

But then, they haven't been to the kind of places I’ve been, or experienced the same levels of pain as I have; not while watching a Jaws movie on a deadly big screen - in the shadows of a suddenly, ruthlessly, carnivorous cinema.


*Update: I went to see the original Jaws at London’s Prince Charles cinema recently, and there was no blood in sight - except on the screen, where it’s supposed to be . .

*Disclaimer: The NFT did say they would fix the seat after I told them it had tried to bite me. And I promise not to sue.

Words and Actual Blood: Mark Gordon Palmer

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