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Jaws: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard

October 28, 2011

Very few movies have permanently altered the mindset of the entire world after just one viewing, but I think you’ll agree that Jaws was definitely one of them. When I saw a new book called Jaws: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard, released by Moonrise Media, it actually stopped me in my tracks while shooting photos at the New York Comic Con. There I met with conceptualist Jim Beller and author Matt Taylor. June 20, 1974. It was the first day of summer vacation and as usual we were spending it in Beach Haven, New Jersey. Up until then I loved the ocean and looked forward to spending time at the beach, relaxing with the family, sunbathing and swimming in the ocean. We went there every single year and it was a paradise that as a kid I looked forward to more than I can say. Then, on the night of June 20, 1974, I saw Jaws. I’ve swam in the ocean only two times since that night. Jaws scarred me for life. I know I’m not alone. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a huge fan of the movie that utterly and completely destroyed my vacation plans for years to come. That’s why I was so excited to meet the two guys behind the new book Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard. I think the thing that caught my eye first as I walked by their booth at NYCC was their banner with Jaws in huge RED letters. Then it was the giant weathered yellow barrel sitting on the table. You remember. It was one of the many barrels that were attached by ropes and shot into the shark near the end of the movie to slow it down. And it didn’t. Not at all. But then I saw the two smiling guys sitting next to that with a large coffee table type book sitting on the table in front on them and a sign that said “Own a piece of The Orca II” and I was, uh, hooked, so to speak. Neither Jim nor Matt was involved with the production of the film, but both were tremendous fans of the movie and avid collectors of Jaws memorabilia. Jim had the idea that there had to be people on Martha’s Vineyard that had photos people had never seen and stories that had never been told. “Originally I was going to just do a photo book because I thought all the same stories had already been told over and over again in so many documentaries. That’s how Matt got involved. I needed a writer to just write a forward and an epilogue and Matt had grown up on the island and knew most of the local people who were in the movie. Turns out they had loads of untold stories and the whole project snowballed from there. The whole point of the book is to tell the story of the production through the memories of the local islanders of Martha’s Vineyard, a lot of whom acted in the movie,” he said. It took over six years of research by Jim and then later Matt, to gather over 1,000 never before seen shots stemming from preproduction all the way through to the local premiere of the movie which was given as a benefit for a hospital that had just been built on the island. But getting these photos was no easy task for Matt. “Most of the islanders saw the movie as ‘The Circus has come to town,’ sort of an invasion of B-Movie Hollywood, and they took lots of pictures and stuff. I knew an elderly couple who were on the crew who supposedly had photos from the shoot. They were nice enough to let me in on this freezing cold January night and allowed me to start going through their attic. Unfortunately they had cranked the heat in the house and it all rose to the attic which must have been about 110 degrees. So I spent five or six hours that night going through their entire attic full of photo books, slide carousels, old clothes and tons and tons of cardboard boxes. It’s so hot. I’m dripping sweat, I’m light-headed and woozy. I lost like 20 pounds that night. I gave up hope of ever finding anything so many times. Then I’d take a break, get some water and go back up into this boiling hot room. Finally I got to this last box, which was under this giant pile of old musty clothing that I didn’t even want to touch, and in the bottom of it I found a yellow Kodak box marked Jaws - 1974. It was full of these incredible full color slides. Amazing stuff! And that’s typical of the kind of thing we did to find photos for this book.” ‘My favorite memory of the project was the completion of the book,” Jim laughed. “And getting Steven Spielberg to do the foreword made all the hard work worth it. It was the ultimate endorsement of the work we did and made me feel like we had gotten it right!” So why should you rush out in a feeding frenzy and plunk down your hard earned cash for this book? Well, the paperback version of the book is 12” x 10” and contains more than a thousand full color and black and white images, and it’s just a beautiful thing to behold. But if you won’t take my word for it, maybe you’ll take this other guy’s: “There’s a book that’s out now that interviews all the people on the island of Martha’s Vineyard watching us for nine months, a coffee table book, and if you’re a fan of Jaws, you should read it. It really shows what kind of a support system a community can be in helping us make a movie.” That was Steven Spielberg speaking at San Diego Comic-Con 2011. [You many need to use your announcer voice for this part.] But wait! That’s not all! Order the limited, signed and numbered hardcover version (only 1,000 produced) and you’ll also get a DVD filmed and narrated by a local island woman, Carol Fligor, who using an 8mm movie camera, went everywhere during the filming and took home movies of all the behind the scenes goings-on. [Okay, back to normal voice now.] But the real reason to splurge for this extra deluxe version is that it also comes with a truly iconic piece of Hollywood history, a 1”x 1” piece of the fiberglass hull of the Orca II (also known as the sinking Orca) along with a signed certificate of authenticity from the owners Lynn and Susan Murphy. For more information or to purchase a copy of the book, visit their website.

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