Brow Beat

A Video Essay Breakdown of Jaws’ Iconic Beach Scene

Chief Brody on the beach.

Still from Vimeo

There are a handful of movie moments that are so recognizable, so deeply embedded in cultural memory, that their images endure regardless of whether you’ve seen them. One such moment is the Jaws beach scene, a masterwork of narrative compression that announced the arrival of a young talent named Steven Spielberg.

So what makes the scene so good? In the first episode of new video essay series “The Discarded Image,” Julian Palmer suggests the answer is Spielberg’s knack for putting the audience in the place of the actor: The director uses color choice, camera placement, and foreshadowing to go “beyond the proscenium arch” and engage viewers directly. He’s not the first to do so, of course, and Palmer frequently uses Alfred Hitchcock’s work to contextualize Spielberg’s innovations in suspense. It’s an apt comparison, especially given Jaws’ use of Hitchcock’s dolly zoom.