This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Steven Spielberg’s “great episode of Sea Hunt,” Jaws.
Jaws practically invented the summer blockbuster, ultimately bringing in $123.1 million in its initial release. Audiences loved the movie, which kept people out of the water for most of the summer of 1975. Jaws was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Original Dramatic Score, and Best Sound, winning the latter of the four. (Best Picture was awarded to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.) However, for all the money the movie made, Steven Spielberg was snubbed in the Best Director category. Spielberg resented not being nominated, and although he did finally score the Best Director Oscar in 1994 for Schindler’s List, is probably still bitter about it to this day. The director went through hell on water making Jaws; with “The shark’s not working” a regular refrain on the set, a tense working relationship between stars Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, and worried studio execs concerned that the film wasn’t going to deliver, Spielberg thought that this film could very well be his last in Hollywood.
Spielberg’s reaction to not being recognized for directing the shark tale—after all, it is an honor just to be nominated—was captured by TVTV (Top Value Television), a ’70s guerrilla video collective whose members included Christopher Guest, Bill Murray, and Harold Ramis. Using then-new portable video technology, the collective shot a documentary about the 1976 Academy Awards. The hour-long doc also features Lily Tomlin dress shopping and Michael Douglas waxing on Cuckoo’s Nest on the ski slopes.
The clip of young Steve Spielberg shows the disappointed young director trying to retain his good humor—“I got beaten out by Fellini!,” he says—and joking that the shark will at least get a Best Actress nod. (He also appears quite surprised by Robert Altman’s Nashville getting nominated in the Best Picture category.) Hanging out in Spielberg’s office with him that morning is Joe Spinell, who you either remember from small roles in Rocky and The Godfather or his charming take on a leading man in the grindhouse classic Maniac. Also there is Frank Pesce, character actor extraordinaire who would go on to start in 1979’s “Jawsploitation” knock-off, Killer Fish. The duo was slated to play the two fishermen in Jaws who lose their holiday roast, but the roles didn’t pan out. Spielberg invited them over to watch the nominations that morning, and Joe Spinell just about steals the show with this simple line:
“Who made it? The shark?”