Who are you to yourself?
What’s your favorite movie? Do you have an immediate answer that enthusiastically leaps from your lips? Or, do you weigh the available options like you’re hearing the question for the very first time?
Me, I have no idea what my favorite movie is anymore. Jaws used to be my stock answer. It’s one of the films I have the strongest personal identifications with and it’s incredibly enjoyable. Jaws is about as old as I am, which means it has always been with me. It’s one of my earliest memories of fear, and the first film I ever saw someone walk out of because they were nauseated (my cousin, during the chumming scene after Mrs. Kintner places the bounty on the shark.) The movie poster introduced me to the word, “intense.” As in, may be too intense for young children, the admonition at the bottom of the bubble gum scented Topps pinup hanging on the wall of the bedroom I shared with my older brothers. A pinup that I did not like very much after dark.
I always had a problem with the Jaws art at night. We had the classic Ideal “Game of Jaws,” which we kept in the box and always, always, ALWAYS had to be put back into the closet before bed because otherwise, I’d just stare into the toothy abyss.
Memories and associations with Jaws and its sequels, all of which I saw in the theaters and enjoy for various reasons. I remember seeing Jaws 2 with my mother on a rainy day in 1978, taking a taxi to and from the theater and absolutely bawling my head off when the shark bites into the power cable at the end. Got the Jaws 2 coloring book while visiting with my grandmother. Jaws 2 trading cards whenever my older brothers got doubles. I had a plastic Jaws shark, now known to be the Chemtoy shark, who loyally served as my bathtub buddy. With no official action figures to terrorize, Bespin Luke Skywalker would stand in for Martin Brody, and the Bespin Security Guard would usually find himself feet first down the shark’s gullet.
Jaws 3-D, I saw during a visit with my cousins. Given a choice between seeing it again, or going to see Return of the Jedi a second time, I picked the shark. Revisited it over and over again with my Jaws 3-D ViewMaster reels. I read Hank Searls’ supernaturally tinged novelization of Jaws: The Revenge (or, as people in my neck of the woods used to call it, Jaws’ Revenge) before experiencing the joys of banana boats and roaring sharks in a movie theater. Proudly displayed the home release poster up on my wall, courtesy of Sunset Video (conveniently attached to a tanning salon) just across the state line in West Virginia. There was a substantial backlash against Spielberg films in the cult film crowd (“indoor bullstuff” shown inside of “hardtops,” as Joe Bob Briggs would say) but, in my college years, Jaws got a +1 in Gen X charisma thanks to Kevin Smith’s canonization in Mallrats. I have more memories from all eras, but, you get the idea. I love Jaws. The film and its iconography are absolutely saturated with deep and personal meaning.
But, do I like Jaws more than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2? Creepshow? Heathers? Evil Dead 2?
How would I even quantify that? There are so many movies that mean different things over the course of your life. I can’t remember how many times I saw The Crow when it came out. Alright, I can. Between the first theatrical run and the dollar theater, I saw The Crow 13 times. I don’t even own a copy of it now. I owned it on VHS, then DVD, but sometime in the mid-00s, I had veterinary expenses to pay for and a chunk of the movie collection was the way to do it. After those “prestige” releases that you buy because the extras are good and the film feels historically significant, and those films that you just keep around because want to show them to people, The Crow followed suit.
“Favorite movies” are as much about how you see yourself and the way you want the world to see you as they are about the experience of watching them.
I can tell you how Jaws “reads” (to me) when it’s someone’s favorite movie. It reads just masculine enough (Sackler, Milius, and Shaw’s “Indianapolis” speech,) just scary enough (RIP Alex Kintner) and just funny enough (“It’s only an island if you look at it from the water.”) It’s got central archetypes that satisfy a lot of your identification needs. Gruff, grim, tough guy Quint. Hooper, for those who like a little bit of smarm with their smarts. Brody, for the tired parent in all of us. Thanks to Kevin Smith, it’s even got a little more geekiness in its cache, having been presented as worthy of geek worship alongside Star Wars and Stan Lee. The same way that the movie itself is an almost perfect entertainment, it’s an almost perfect answer. It’s just not a very interesting answer.
For a while, in my existential angst period, John Carpenter’s The Thing was my answer. Like Jaws, The Thing is another almost perfect entertainment. And, if you answer that it’s your favorite movie, I immediately know that you’ve got trust issues and would like the world to see you as a little harder than you actually are. I can say that because of the sheer number of his films that I love, John Carpenter is my favorite director. Some people like to pick at his later catalog, but when you’ve hit that many home runs, a couple of base hits don’t really bring down the average. I love more John Carpenter films than Spielberg, by far. I realized that I, personally, have a way better time watching Big Trouble in Little China or Escape from L.A.
What would it mean if someone told you that Escape From L.A. was their favorite movie?
It means that person is entirely out of fucks.
Or, maybe, wishes that they were.
Now that I think about it, I have two Escape From L.A. posters and not one Jaws.