the Bechdel test
There is no doubt that the immortal line from Steven Spielberg’s 1975 horror classic, 'Jaws' has become a staple in the popular vernacular. It is a phrase that has come to signal the utter lack of preparation in the face of insurmountable challenges.
But while Roy Scheider's Chief Brody gets to deliver the film's most quotable line, it's Robert Shaw's Quint who gets not just one, but the two best speeches in the movie. In the 1970s, film making still held actors in a higher regard than special effects. Character was king and the American film stars of the 70's approached their craft with a kind of reverence that bears no resemblance to the surface delights of the instagram generation of today. So while 'Jaws' may have singled the coming of the 'Summer Blockbuster', it still held true to the virtues character and story telling, over visual gimmickry.
Scrapping his finger nails down a chalk board to pierce the ears of the town officials and local business owners of Amity Island, Quint's opening speech delivers the first real bite of the film. Audiences may have glimpsed two horrific shark attacks carried out in the murky depths, but this is a speech that focuses a light on a single minded character who has but one sole purpose.
'You all know me. You know what I do for a living.'
If they want to catch a killer, they are going to have to hire one.
With the summer season about to start, and a town highly reliant on summer dollars, the Amity residents need to find a quick solution to keep the beaches open in order to save the town from 'being on the whole winter.’ In steps Quint, offering only to find the shark for the offered bounty of $3000, but ‘to catch him, and kill him for ten.’
“Thank you, Mr Quint.”
So says the bemused Mayor Larry Vaughn, brilliantly played by Murray Hamilton, “We’ll take into consideration.” So powerful are the word uttered by Robert Shaw's character that Mayor Vaughn appears more terrified of Quint than he does of the Great White that is plaguing the shores of his jurisdiction.
It takes one more gruesome shark attack, in front of a packed beach on the 4th July holiday weekend, before the town officials finally do consider Quint's seriously and hire the fisherman to catch the shark. But Quint is not your usual hero. He has no redeeming qualities. He is the most unlikable, untrusted character in the film, “Why does it have to be Quint?” asks Chief Brody’s wife before waving the chief, Quint and Richard Dreyfuss' marine biologist off to sea. “I know.” Replies the chief. But the problem the filmmakers had, was that they didn’t know.
They had created a character with such haunting presence, such commanding gravitas, that he could silence an entire room of arguing officials, but they had no real idea of what was driving him. Why would an outsider, who seeks no commendations, who keeps his own council and views the population of the summer seaside resort with nothing but disdain, want to risk his life to save theirs? There are none of the usual drivers, no damsel to be rescued, no debit to be paid, no father's approval to be sought. Why does he care? This was the question that Spielberg was grappling (when not dealing with an inflated budget and three sinking rubber sharks) and so he turned to another story to help find an answer.
"He needs a reason to hate the shark"
With a production that was running over time, over budget, and was plagued with technical setbacks, Spielberg needed something that would guarantee to strike fear into the hearts of his audience.
The sinking of the USS Indianapolis, lay deep in the consciousness of 70's American public. The worst sea disaster in US naval history, taking place in the climatic moments of the second world war, the tragedy left an indelible mark. The image is vivid - more than thousand young sailors, their torpedoed ship laying on the ocean floor beneath them, clinging for life in huddles groups. Beneath them sharks circled and without any prejudice, attacked at will. In the early 1970s the war was still prominent in peoples minds, and the sinking of the Indianapolis was still a recent memory, stirring primal fears of helplessness and despair. It was a feeling that Spielberg was eager to capitalise on.
Quint had been one of those young sailors. His becoming was shaped by one of the most terrifying experiences in living memory. The only way to truly depict that terror, was to have him tell his story. Without any special effects, deep sea monsters or editing wizardry, Spielberg allows the speech to speak for itself. In doing so, the scene becomes the biggest bite of the movie, and the speech delivers the bomb.