Steven Spielberg's second feature, released in 1975, was an adaptation of a best-selling trash novel about a killer shark's effect on a New England tourist town. Under extreme pressure on a catastrophic location shoot, Universal's 27 year-old prodigy crafted a thriller so effective that for many years Jaws was the highest-grossing film of all time. It was also instrumental in establishing the concepts of the event movie and the summer blockbuster. Jaws exerts an extraordinary power over audiences. Apparently simplistic and manipulative, it is a film that has divided critics into two broad camps: those who dismiss it as infantile and sensational - and those who see the shark as freighted with complex political and psychosexual meaning. Antonia Quirke, in an impressionistic response, argues that both interpretations obscure the film's success simply as a work of art. In Jaws Spielberg's ability to blend genres combined with his precocious technical skill to create a genuine masterpiece, which is underrated by many, including its director. Indeed, Quirke claims, this may be Spielberg's finest work.
Antonia Quirke has written on film for the Independent on Sunday, and on actors for the New Statesman. She contributes to BBC Radio 4's weekly film programme Back Row and presents documentaries for BBC Television.
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