A couple of weeks ago I watched Jaws for the first time. I’m not a fan of horror, which is one of the reasons I avoided the film for so long, but I found it to be much more of a thriller (with a couple of bloodthirsty scenes). One of the things I really liked was the development of Chief Brody, especially in relation to the Mayor, Larry Vaughn, so I’ve gone back to study the cinematography and acting in some of the scenes where they’re together.
There will be mild spoilers below, so if you’re like I was and haven’t yet watched this classic from 1975 you may want to avoid this post!
The first scene I sketched from is when Brody is cornered on a ferry by Vaughn and various others. Brody has just reported a young woman’s death as by shark attack, but Vaughn and the medical examiner try to convince him that her death was caused by a boat’s propellor. He’s unconvinced, but he’s overruled.
From the beginning of the scene Brody is trapped in the corner of the screen. He’s trapped on the ferry, too. He’s surrounded by the car and by Vaughn and by a whole crowd of Vaughn’s cronies. Though he’s the taller man, Brody’s always leaning on something or leaning out of the way. Vaughn even grabs at him at the very start. The Mayor is completely in control, and Brody is unable – and unwilling – to do anything about it.
After the second attack there’s a meeting. The islanders are angry, mainly because they don’t want the beach closed. Vaughn doesn’t want it closed either. Brody has the whole island against him – even the sign in the hallway at the beginning of the scene, which he walks into. Like the previous scene, he’s constantly surrounded by people and pushed to the side. Even when he’s in a position of authority when he stands to speak Brody is a small figure squeezed in a corner, dwarfed by those he’s speaking to, and in one shot even trapped between a door and a window.
At the very end of the scene, after Quint the shark hunter offers to track down the man-eating shark (for a fee), Brody’s finally given a ‘hero’ shot. The camera looks up, slightly, and he’s no longer stuck between the door and the window. It’s Quint, or his experiences with Quint, that will help turn Brody into the hero.
After Brody and Matt Hooper, the oceanographer, go out to search for the shark they confront the Mayor, telling him that he must close the beach. Throughout the scene – mainly one, long shot – the three characters move around each other as the power dynamic shifts. Vaughn ultimately remains in control of the situation – he usually has the most space on screen – and Brody, as ever, is powerless – ending up squashed to the side and dwarfed. The beach remains open.
A dramatic shift occurs after the third attack when Brody’s child ends up in hospital. Chief Brody forces Vaughn to hire Quint, using all the body language that Vaughn previously employed against him. It’s now Brody who dominates the screen and has all the space. He even reaches into Vaughn’s pocket for a pen, echoing their first scene where Vaughn grabbed at Brody’s arm. Near the end of the scene, Vaughn’s crushed into the corner of the screen. At the very end, Brody walks directly into camera, filling the screen as he enters the second half of the movie and joins Quint to hunt for the shark.
If you’ve enjoyed this you may also like to see the studies I drew from The Sound of Music.