Sunday, February 10, 2008

In Amity One Man Can Make a Difference

And one man did make a difference. He may have needed the help of Quint and Matt Hooper, but it was Martin Brody who was there at the start for dealing with the shark and he was the one who finished off the shark off. Because he was Roy Scheider, a mere mortal, we knew that he had to work at it for that to happen. And we liked him that much more because we believed it.

The several films that Roy Scheider became best known for have become truly iconic, even to the point that I do my own Chief Brody impression. No, I won’t do it here, but ask me after a few drinks sometime. His work as Martin Brody is one of the many elements which allowed JAWS to be as brilliant as it is. The movie needed a true, normal everyday everyman in the lead and he does an amazing job of it, from his futzing with the paint in the hardware store to the way he pours all that wine into his glass to the way Brody is the last of the three men to stop singing “Show Me The Way To Go Home” when the shark begins banging on the hull, a subtle reminder how he’s less experienced on the water than the other two.

Along with JAWS and THE FRENCH CONNECTION (“Hi there”) was his work in THE SEVEN UPS, sort of the movie he got while Hackman did FRENCH CONNECTION II. It’s not that great, but the car chase which Scheider’s character is at the wheel for is astounding. The seventies also saw MARATHON MAN, SORCERER, LAST EMBRACE and ALL THAT JAZZ. In the 80s there was BLUE THUNDER—my first R-rated movie in a theater—and later on a few not-uninteresting films for Frankenheimer, 52 PICK UP and THE FOURTH WAR. Outside of the junk he was in past 1990, there was his twisted work as Dr. Benway in Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH along with appearances in THE RAINMAKER and RKO 281.

More than anything, I always think of Roy Scheider and his resemblance to my own dad. It was a very slight resemblance, yes, and more than anything it may have to do with my own recollections that he always seemed to enjoy the actor in various films. I’m not even sure where that feeling comes from--maybe it’s some long-dormant memory of watching STILL OF THE NIGHT on cable. But I do remember him being surprised by Scheider’s role in ROMEO IS BLEEDING, asking “What’s he doing in that movie?” in a bemused sort of way. So I’ve long associated Roy Scheider with that feeling, thinking that he got to star in movies back in a time when “my dad” could still be the lead in them. In that sense it’s odd that JAWS 2—which isn’t that bad, but it’s not that great either—is one of those cases where the movie spends way too much time on boring kids that we will never care about when all we want to do is get more scenes with Chief Brody dealing with his problems. That’s one of the reasons the movie has aged so badly, but now I find myself regretting not going to see it at the New Beverly midnight show a week ago.

I don’t want to mourn Roy Scheider. I want to remember him as an actor who in playing the roles he did was so obviously as determined in his work as the characters he was portraying were. Watching him on the DVD documentaries on some of his films, he seems like the sort of person who would be a blast to sit down with for a meal so you could ask him about all the things he’s done and seen. I’ll never get the chance, but I’ll gladly take more viewings of his films that I love in the coming years. And I’ll be thinking about my dad while doing it.

“What am I gonna tell the kids?”
“Tell ‘em I’m going fishing.”


Nostalgia Kinky said...

I just posted my tribute as is hard to imagine American cinema in the seventies and eighties without Roy. I loved this guy...

Anonymous said...

Scheider was going to present a doc I made about Jaws and was gutted when he withdrew because- I later found out - he was ill. I was so looking forward to meeting him. He was the heart of the movie, he was us, the audience - an ordinary guy out of his depth.

And he still seemed like a blue collar guy when he flew that helicopter upside down, no mean feat.