In the book, ‘Fever Pitch’, Nick Hornby tells how key moments in his life have been defined by soccer matches he had seen.
It’s much the same for me with films. I have very precise memories of almost every film I have seen – which cinema, who was with me, events that happened on that day.
How odd then that, after such enormous anticipation, I remember so very little about the first time that I ever saw ‘Jaws’. Almost anything I might say about that first viewing would be largely imagined or made-up because I really don’t remember.
However, I remember loads about the second time I saw it. It was exactly one week after the first time I saw it. I was going again with my friend and his sister, neither of whom had seen it yet.
My mother was annoyed that I was spending good money to see the same film twice, she thought it was a bad idea. But I went anyway – this is as close to rebellion as I ever came. I since found out that my Dad went to see ‘The African Queen’ on seven consecutive nights in the local cinema so maybe Mum didn’t mind me going quite as much as I thought she did.
In that second viewing, I actually felt that I owned the film. It was mine now and I was showing it off proudly to my friends. ‘Look what I did just there, aren’t I great?’
This second time around, I was able to look around and watch the astonishing audience reaction when Ben Gardner slipped out of that hole in the boat. It was the oddest thing – everybody jumped. And I really mean jumped, they didn’t cower under their loved ones elbow or throw their hands up to their faces to hide. They jumped and screamed in complete unison… and then they laughed in relief.
One thing I do remember about my first viewing is that I didn’t jump.
I think I might have been the only one.
* * * *
In September 1980, Jaws turned up on television in Ireland for the very first time.
It might be hard to believe now, but this was a bit of an event too. VCRs were only just starting to tentatively appear in the more well-off homes and the concept of the video as home entertainment was still a few years away from being cemented. As a result, the film had dropped from view after a long cinema run and had not been seen much for nearly five years. The prospect, therefore, of reliving the experience in your own living room was an interesting and, yes, an exciting one.
This Sunday night TV premiere spawned one of the most lasting and emotional memories of ‘Jaws’ for me. Perhaps it goes some way to explain why that silly old film still means so much to me.
You see, Sunday night was no good for me. I couldn’t get to see it. On Sunday night, at Six O’clock, I got the bus back to college in Dublin. I had just turned seventeen, was only two weeks into College and Dublin, had never been away from home before, and was physically and desperately homesick. I didn’t want to be in Dublin, I wanted to be in my own house watching the film, just like everyone else would be.
But I had to go and so I didn’t get to see the film that night.
Except… I did.
I watched the film through every living room window I passed, from eight o’clock to ten, as my bus rolled across the country. My eyes riveted to the bus window, I saw snapshot after snapshot of ‘Jaws’ beam out to me. There was lots of houses, lots of windows and everyone was watching.
I know, I saw them.
And the abiding memory of that snatched cross-country viewing? Easy. The colour blue. The azure sea… I can’t explain it but it tugs at me to write it even now.
That blue became a link to home.
Strangely enough, it still is.