Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
Critiques: Jaws and Goodfellas.

As I've mentioned here before, one of my main resolutions this year was to finish watching the AFI's top 100 (now 122) best films of all time. I've debated with myself as to whether or not I should include my reactions to these films, or even share which films I'm currently watching, as some of the gaps in my viewing experience are, shall we say, excruciatingly embarrassing. For example, the two I've knocked off the list so far this week: Jaws (1975) and Goodfellas.

I can hear you spluttering now: "Geoff! You're a giant media geek! You own hundreds of movies! How can you have never seen Jaws or Goodfellas?" To which I will respond, "Yes, that, that right there, is what I'm trying to fix by watching these... That, a sense of missing some of the classic references in popular culture for the last 20-odd years, and a desire to really be able to hold my own when I eventually do begin to teach classes on subjects like these."

So. Jaws and Goodfellas.

First off, I want to note that even in these great American cinema classics, some of the acting is absolute crap. Some of it is brilliant – I very much appreciated all the main characters in Jaws, and I really liked Pesci and DeNiro in Goodfellas... But I can't stand Ray Liotta. His laugh in particular is like nails on a chalkboard to me, both in its sound and in the way he pulls his head back and drops his jaw into his neck. It's not a laugh, it's a totally phony cackle. Ugh.

Second, both films were really compelling stories. Some people belittle Jaws with the rest of Spielberg's early work as pop schmaltz, especially given its status as the first American blockbuster film (first ever to surpass the $100M mark) but I really appreciated the way that he depicted life in Martha's Vineyard, where all the Amity Island business was shot. I totally bought that the mayor and the locals would be willing to gamble with people's lives because if they didn't, they themselves would be completely out of business for the rest of the year. Jaws depicts two levels of a life-or-death struggle: man versus nature in the water and man versus nature in a larger socioeconomic playing field. Similarly, I enjoyed how Goodfellas depicted both De Niro's and Liotta's characters as outsiders in the gangster culture, reflecting tensions between immigrants and 'natives', members of rival families, issues of honor, issues of compensation, issues of family... Very, very well done, and its spot on the list was very well-deserved indeed.

Third, like I noted at the beginning of this entry, I really enjoy being able to truly get some of the cultural references that these films spawned in the last 20, 30 years. The "dance!" scene in Goodfellas, the "you're going to need a bigger boat" line in Jaws, Pesci's "do I amuse you?" routine, and – of all things – Roy Scheider's "that's some bad hat, Harry" line that spawned the name of the production company behind House M.D..

So far this has been a great project. I'm not sure what's next on my list: A Clockwork Orange, Bull Durham, Unforgiven... I'll probably catch at least one more before the end of the weekend, but we'll see what happens.


You never saw Jaws? Lucky man -- it probably means you can swim in the ocean with wild abandon.

As for your deciding about the next one, Clockwork Orange easily beats Unforgiven or Bull Durham. Unforgiven was just proof that Clint's still alive and can do Westerns, Bull Durham is meh, but CO is something different.

Actually, I meant to type Raging Bull, not Bull Durham. Oops. As it turns out, I didn't get back to the Classics project until this morning -- I spent all week burning through Season Three of LOST instead. I'm almost caught up now, only a few more discs to go!

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