The Biggest Movie of My Life – The Beginning

It all started when my eldest brother got sick one day. It was 1974 and he wasn’t really all that terribly sick, just a bit under the weather.

“Your brother is feeling a bit under the weather,” my mother whispered, “run to the shop and buy him a book to read.” This may seem a little odd but my brother and I have always shared this little trait – we are both comforted and cosseted by books. It’s strange but true.

Photo by: 'somewhere on an island'

So I ran to the shop – I was eleven years old and I ran pretty fast back then.

I didn’t run to the bookshop though, that would have been too easy. Instead, I ran to a little grocery shop on the other side of the river. It was a long way around via the bridge but I knew it was the place to go.

There was a book there, you see, up behind the counter and for weeks it had been staring out at me every day when I dropped in for a post-school treat. I couldn’t see much of it because it was quite a long way back but I knew from my distant view of the cover that it would be one that my brother would like.

It was about vampires, you see, and my brother liked vampires.

Well… I thought it was about vampires.

All that I could really see of the cover, from my vantage point in front of the counter, was the large mouth drooping downwards, the pointed savage teeth, the pale face, the black eyes and the title.

When I handed in my money and the book was brought down from its perch and delivered out to me, I finally saw that it wasn’t a vampire at all on the cover.

It was a fish.

* * * *

My brother finished ‘Jaws’ in record time, recovered fully and went off to play football on the street. Then it was my turn.

I had been waiting anxiously to have a go at it. The Daily Express review on the back cover was highly memorable, I can still quote it pretty much verbatim:

“Pick up ‘Jaws before midnight, read the first five pages, and I guarantee you'll be putting it down breathless and stunned, as dawn is breaking the next day”

Remember I was just eleven years old. There were things in ‘Jaws’ which I probably shouldn’t have been reading at that age. There was a lesbian in there, for instance. I didn’t really know what a 'lesbian' was but I soon figured it out. I had some help, I already had ‘The Dice Man’ under my belt… but that’s a whole other blog post.

Lesbians aside, the book grabbed me and shook me and would not let me go. I finished it, put it down and I remember saying to myself, ‘That is going to make one hell of a film.’

And so the long wait began…

There will never be another movie event like ‘Jaws’ simply because the world has now changed so much. When ‘The Dark Knight’ came out this summer, it was all over the world within days of its World Premiere. ‘Jaws’ took ages to even get to Ireland after it was released. But, much more importantly, it took additional ages to get to my home town after it was released in Dublin.

People were taking the train to the Capital just to queue around the block, see the film and then come home again. My best friend Martin was brought to Dublin by his Dad and so he got to see it months before me. I could have cheerfully strangled him and his old Dad – one neck in each hand.

One evening, weeks before it arrived, I saw a short clip on the telly. This was quite unusual in those days. I had one overriding impression of that short clip:

The movie looked so incredibly ‘Blue’...

With your indulgence, I might return to this subject in a later post, to set down what happened when I finally got to see the most-anticipated movie of my life.


hope said...

I recall that a friend in college saw the movie, then went back and sat backwards to watch the audience reaction for a Psych paper. She said it was like watching a wave wash over them and ripple from top to bottom in the theater.

Poor Peter Benchley felt so bad about what he did to the image of the Great White Shark that he became a champion for their cause until his recent death.

Anonymous said...

I don't recall ever hearing about the book; I certainly don't recall hearing about the movie. But then again Dubai was a pretty sheltered place for things like this. Apparently, even more so the Ireland was.

So where in Ireland do you live Ken? (If you don't mind my asking that is... if you do, that's cool.. it's not like it's a big place ;P

Beamer said...

There were 2 books I read as a youngster that I couldn't wait to see turned into Movies: Godfather and the Shining by Stephen King. I wasn't disappointed.

I had also read The Excorsist before it came out as a Movie. The book I could handle, sort of, but couldn't stay to see then end of the movie. The head spinning really got to me.


Anonymous said...

I wish I was a fly on the wall to see your expression when you saw the fish instead. :)

Nice post Ken.

Rachel Fox said...

I lived in a backwater too (NE the 70s/80s it was like the land that time forgot) and so we got films what felt like decades after everyone else (if we got them at all). It's funny to remember that now when, as you say, things move much quicker now. I went cinema crazy for a while when I lived in cities but now I've gone the full miles from a cinema, don't really mind and wait, patiently for the dvd or film4!
p.s. package arrived today - ta

Matthew S. Urdan said...

Alright, I'm sure I'm missing something, but you have to explain "The dice man under your belt".

I don't remember the lesbian in Jaws....but I was like ten when I read it. I'm pretty sure the woman going skinny dipping at the beginning of the book that was soon to be shark fodder had a boyfriend on the beach.

Nice sound a lot closer to your brother than any of my brothers ever have been.

@fragileheart--Ireland might not be a big place, bit is known for its people with big hearts.

CelloBella said...

I saw Jaws in a local high school in the gymnasium. It was a hot night and I felt quite grown up.

That weekend I went swimming with my friend down at Trigg Beach. She swam behind me and grabbed at my legs.

I have never swum so fast to the beach.

I still haven't swum in the sea after dark.

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Hope: I want to come to that amazing ripple effect in the second part of this, it was an amazing thing.

Fragile: I live in Castlebar, County Mayo but I'm a Sligo Boy originally. Three years in Dublin and 14 Years in London lie in my murky past...

Hey Beamer, 'The Shining' was the first King book I read, I've read them all. I couldn't get into the Exorcist when it first came out. I think 'Legion' is a better book.

Thanks Øyvind: I was okay with the fish - he liked vampires and fish :)

Rachel: You and me both, I love my movies at home now... hey!! any post arrive? - it's over a week since I sent it!

Matt: 'The Dice Man' is a novel by Luke Reinhart, quite sexually explicit, it prepared my for lesbianism, so to speak.

Hey Cellobella nice to see ya - I've enjoyed your posts this week! Imagine going swimming after 'Jaws'... now that's Brave!!

Cleveland Real Estate said...

I was even younger (neener neener) when it came out and yeah, I've never seen the ocean or swam the same in it again...

Looking forward to the second part...

Anonymous said...

Awhhh Castlebar; we (and by we, I mean the Car Park Management company I no longer work for: Q-Park) owns a car park over there!! *sigh* I miss Ireland so very much. Don't know much about Sligo I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

My Gosh! This was beautiful. You made me read from first to last word. Was this the blog you refer "just erite up there and people will read"? This is indeed a read. I ca imagine how you remember the details when it was around 34 years ago??? I am only guessing but the story is beautiful.

At first, I got scary with your description of the cover page.. Then, you made me grin after realizing that it was a fish! Hwahaahah... How could that be?

Lastly, I love the way you treat your "aches"... with a book? Isn't that a wonderful medicine?

Anonymous said...

I just miss what age you were when you wanted to strangle the father and son. ^^ At what age were you then?

I have no idea what is the book all about. I am about half your age but I think I also saw it somewhere and the move "Jaws"? I think I saw it too...

You write very beautifully. I get the feeling and I paint the picture... Do you and your brother still use the same medication??? :)

Anonymous said...


I think Ken already saw the image. It was just a matter of distance that he imagined that it was a vampire? Was it Ken?

I think the teeth and the dark blue image (more blackish) has fooled your eyesight for that? Guessing again.. AM I correct?

Ken Armstrong said...

Dear Cecelia: Of *course* you were younger - matter of fact, you must have seen a re-release or something. The movie never really had an effect on my relationship with water (once a month whether I need it or not), it just... excited me.

Fragile: I bet I've parked in one of your spaces. I feel... closer to you somehow. (To lurking Irish guy, it's okay, I'm kidding) :)

Thanks Rogue and welcome! Books can still fix me - not a full cure perhaps but a little analgesia at least.

Here's a link to the book cover. From a distance, the mouth was evident and the little swimming lady on the surface looked like eyes.

'Jaws Book Cover'

Hi Wanderer: I was twelve then. But I wouldn't really have strangled them :)

ilovph2: Hi, you are quite right, check the image link in the comment above although it sounds like you know the cover quite well. My eyesight was good, the book was just quite far away. I saw the title and the toothed mouth and thought 'Vampires, cool!' :)

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, my post arrived, thank-you very much. Did you skim-read the first comment???

Ken Armstrong said...

That's good Rachel. Was that note at the end of your comments always there? Really? Jeez, sometimes I worry about myself.

No pressure to read the book but I bet if you get fifty pages in, you won't want to stop. :)

Alan said...

I remember the phenomena of that summer.
I remember I was too young to see it but I sure begged and pleaded all summer long. I remember well everyone seemed to have that book in their hands...the girl and the shark and a really blue sea.

I don't think there has been a movie blockbuster like that since either.
Sure they make a lot of money these days, but no one ever talks about A movie anymore.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Alan, you say it well, 'The girl and the shark and the really blue sea'

If you let me, i might steal that for the title of the second part.

Alan said...

Actually even I remember,

The NUDE girl and the shark and the really blue sea,

I guess that's what made you buy the book.

Anonymous said...

For me, Jaws the movie was better than the book, because the action has to be seen. Can't wait to read the next post. I'm curious about what happened.

Thanks for sharing.

tashabud said...

One of these days, I'll sit down to watch this movie. I've seen a little bit of this, a little bit of that, but not the whole thing. The sad part of it all is that the DVD is only an arm-length away from where I'm writing this commnent.

I truly enjoyed reading this post. And can't wait for the next posting.


Matthew S. Urdan said...


I gotta surprise coming for you on my blog next week.


Anonymous said...

I think I'm the only person on the planet to never have seen might just be to late for me.

Kathy said...

Jaws was the first movie I ever saw at a drive-in theater. What an event that was! You could feel the fear and terror rippling through the crowd. I remember it was a very warm night and we all wanted to stay outside of the cars. Yet, we wanted the protection of the car, too. (As though the car on dry land would protect us from a man-eating shark swimming through movie water!) Good times.

Kat Mortensen said...

Ken, I read the book and saw the movie the week it came out. I will never forget the thrill, the terror and the absolute captivation of that film. I was a couple of years older than you, so the adult content was perhaps more titillating in the book, but it was far outweighed by the excitement of seeing the Great White on film. A couple of scenes stand out for me in particular. Not to give anything away, but one had to do with a dock at night and the other with a hole in a boat. These days, those thrills are "small potatoes" in comparison to some of the stuff on the big screen today, and I think that's a shame, really.


Anonymous said...

Great story, I loved it! I haven't read Jaws, but maybe now I will.

Ken Armstrong said...

Ah no Alan, it wasn't the nude lady made me buy the book - I thought she wuz the eyes of a vampire for Gawd's sake!! :)

Hi Jena: I think the movie *was* better than the book but the book was tautly written and more convincing in the end.

Tashabud (Hi) you really should treat yourself to that DVD - it stands up quite well even today except that the famous 'jump' sequence doesn't really work on a TV screen.

Gosh, Matt - 'got me worried now!

Carlae, Hi!, It is never too late for 'Jaws' - it feels more like film history now but, if you haven't seen it , there's still a treat in store - it's an extremely well-crafted movie.

Hi Kathy: I never thought of Jaws at a drive in. I wonder the everybody jump in their respective cars? :)

Poetikat, nice to see ya! The dock bit was great, wasn't it? That was used in advanced publicity, I think, and really set everything up well. BTW, you don't have many years on me darlin' and you're lookin' better than me! :)

Thanks Yolander, Have a read, it's pulpy but good and (did you hear?) there's a lesbian in it!! :)

Unknown said...

Jaws was the most intense movie I saw that year and for years to come. The underwater scene where the head comes into view scared all of us to death.

S. A. Hart said...

Ken, your writing is always interesting--it's pure pleasure to read. Therefore, I've decided to give your blog an award. Please see my blog for full details. Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Outstanding start to this story Ken. I can't wait to read the rest of it.

Ken Armstrong said...

Ettarose: yes that 'head' has a lot to answer for doesn't it.

Hi Sharon - An award!!? Thanks very much. I shall treasure that in my little cabinet. :) Really, it means a lot that you enjoy reading here.

And Matt, I'm glad you like it, you know I like your own stuff and will be heading over there shortly to see what's new. :)

Alan said...

The shark....very scary

Ken Armstrong said...

Ha! I like that Alan, thanks for the link. I like the way they manage to preserve the slightly 'fake' quality that 'Bruce' the Jaws shark always had. :)