On June 28th, 29th and 30th, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra showed the film event “Jaws-Film with Orchestra”, produced by “Film Concerts Live!” as part of the “CSO at the Movies” series. The iconic film by Stephen Spielberg, 1975, was projected on a giant screen at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave, while the renowned orchestra performed the entire memorable score including music during and after the end credits. Due to the level of sound, the film was strategically augmented with storyboards containing dialogue. Deftly conducted by Richard Kaufman, with the aid of a computer that appeared to display the film itself overlaid with metronomic effects, it was a richly entertaining close to the 2016-2017 season.
Kaufman, in his eleventh season with this series, as well as a prominent international guest conductor, Principal Pops Conductor of the Pacific Symphony and Pops Conductor Laureate with the Dallas Symphony, has devoted much of his career to supervising and conducting for television and film. He also has an especially intriguing relationship with respect to this particular score, since he played as a studio violinist for the original film.
Both the movie, about a Great White Shark that terrorizes a resort town at the height of the Fourth of July tourist season, and its music are acknowledged to be masterpieces of the horror genre. The score, released on LP by MCA in 1975 and as a CD in 1992, including a half-hour of music that composer John Williams redid for the album, was found, according to a survey in 2005 by the American Film Institute to be among the 10 most memorable in movie history. Indeed, the Film Music Society has noted, “The music of ‘Jaws’ was as responsible as filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s imagery for scaring people out of the water in the summer of 1975. Its sheer intensity and visceral power helped to make the movie the global phenomenon it turned out to be.”
With the addition of the famous and instantly recognizable “simple alternating” 2 note shark theme, the movie, which made use of tricky reverse zoom shots, seasickness-inducing ocean shots, up-close terrified facial expressions and rapid-fire editing, is a mesmerizing thriller. Stephen Spielberg’s trademark personalizing character features coupled with brilliant casting choices- the laconic transplanted New York cop turned Sheriff played by Roy Scheider, the astonishingly young ocean scientist with the now career defining nervous laugh by Richard Dreyfuss, the rough/tough Scotch seaman with twinkling magnetic eyes by Robert Shaw- not to mention the multitudes of very natural beach going extras created a classic of terror.
The development of the relationship between the men who went to catch the monster is masterful, culminating in an impressive scene of drunken male bonding and a scar-display competition. Important and never to be forgotten were the almost surreal historical touches, like the use of an early 17thcentury sea chanty, “Spanish Ladies”, sung by Shaw, which created an expectation of imminent death, as well as his gut-wrenching grim description of the fate of the USS Indianapolis’ sailors dying in shark-infested waters after delivering the bomb intended for Hiroshima.
Accompanying, encouraging the action, and bringing about the emotionality and ultimate transcendence is John Williams’ splendid score, played with perfect timing and insouciance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. At the time it was composed, most films had eschewed the use of big orchestras in favor of more catchy pop tunes. The multi award-winning score composed by the now world renowned Williams’ not only made the menacing approach of the shark appear more deadly, but the beauty of the rest of the music gives the audience a respite and lull before setting them up with it’s constant pulsing ostinato.
This was a timely and highly effective way to usher in the summer of 2017 and the Fourth of July weekend, and the audience cheered the actors, the action and, at the conclusion, on it’s feet, rewarded the conductor and the orchestra with sustained applause.
For information and tickets to all the great programs of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go to www.cso.org
Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra