Jaws live with the TSO: not the same

Every time I’ve seen one of these live Toronto Symphony showings of a classic film + film-score, I’ve had some remarkable experiences complete with insights, and tonight’s showing of Jaws was no different.

The phrase that keeps running through my head is “it’s not the same”.

Oh sure, I know this movie really well, having seen it so many times I know every line. But never this way.

Each film has a slightly different impact on the audience. Tonight there was something decidedly carnivalesque at work. There was an electric charge in the air before we began, but then again, it’s not usual to sit at a Toronto Symphony concert eating popcorn or drinking.  The audience had come for certain thrills even if they might elicit screams of terror rather than delight. I heard jokes about people wearing shark costumes and the old SNL “land shark”, perhaps the high-point in Chevy Chase’s career.

The guy beside me said “here we go” as it began: as though we were on a roller-coaster. And in a sense we were.


Roy Scheider, wishing for a bigger boat.

When the familiar theme started its oscillation between two notes, the theme that’s John Williams’ most (in) famous creation, there were giggles and laughs throughout the audience. It became something of a communal experience resembling a public execution, except that the deaths were not real, and of course I say this never having seen an actual public execution. But there was the most outrageous sense of titillation in the air, in direct proportion to the degree of violence and the amount of blood.

When Quint finally dies there was a surprising response from part of the theatre, namely applause, as though the villain had just died.  Hm he’s not the bad guy is he? I should have expected this, as we were in the middle of a big public melodrama, without the booing and hissing. We and the protagonists were powerless. The music heightened and amplified the emotional moments in the story.

It’s really like two films, especially when they insert an intermission right in the middle: just as the trio set off in the boat to catch the great white shark. The first part of the film has a very different tone, reminding me at times of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, another movie with a lengthy exposition setting us up for the great ecstatic struggle that is the last part of the film.

It’s not the same in another couple of ways, having to do with this presentation. It’s likely to seem as though I am splitting hairs. The intermission is of course standard by now, as every one of these TSO screenings inserts an intermission into the film, and this one was no different.

But the ending caught me off guard. One of the things I love about Williams’ score is the end, where –after hours of tension—we get a fabulous release. The music when the shark’s head has been blown off, and is bleeding into the water is like a take on Saint-Saëns “Aquarium” from his Carnival of the Animals, with the flowing ostinato in the piano. After all the death and adrenaline, it’s so redemptive as the survivors swim home, so uplifting, and yes, such a sense of relief after all the suspense. But: at the end someone thought it might be fun to insert more of the scary music, to whip up the audience again. And of course yes they were screaming in admiration, so I suppose I’m out of step with them: these people who started talking loudly while I was trying to listen to Williams’ music at the end, while they started leaving. I can’t decide whether I should shut up about this, as an admirer of Williams’ achievement, when that chattering audience who were so ecstatic at the end surely lost themselves in the film, just as Williams and Spielberg would have wanted.  Perhaps they are the ideal audience and I’m just a nerd who should try to be more understanding.

RESIZED Constantine Kitsopoulos - credit Lisa Kohler

Conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos (photo: Lisa Kohler)

It is amazing that at times I forgot all about the orchestra and their conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos. There’s so much going on in this score, not just that oscillating theme, but moments of wonderful work in the percussion (xylophone or marimba perhaps?), brass, and the woodwinds. It’s a huge score, but they are merely accessories to the emotional torture we’re put through in this film, one of the most accomplished scores I know of.

Played this way you hear all sorts of details that are lost usually when you watch the film on DVD.

I found it quite overwhelming, and –for the umpteenth time—must recommend the experience of film with a live accompaniment, whenever possible.

It’s not the same.

And that’s why it’s so extraordinary.

This entry was posted in Cinema, video & DVDs, Music and musicology, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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