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Introduction to Volume IV

American Film, 1976 to the Present

4. 1976 to the Present

1. Setting the Stage

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf104

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

2011. Introduction to Volume IV. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 4:1.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


In the summer of 1975, a great white shark appeared on the horizon of the American movie industry. Steven Spielberg's Jaws took moviegoers out of the crumbling cities to the beach, where they encountered both a new yet familiar sense of horror. It was familiar insofar as there had been a long tradition of screen heroes fighting to subdue a monster — or some alien force — be it earthly or interplanetary, invading American life and threatening its families. But given its arrival in 1975, it offered something different in its menace. Over the previous decade, moviegoers had been battered by representations of what, by the mid-1970s, seemed like intractable problems — ungovernable cities, inadequate public institutions, corrupt police. Beyond the movie screen, the nation wrestled with the reality of these problems plus the aftermath of a divisive war, the resignation of a criminal President, and an energy crisis that threatened the economy. But Jaws posed a problem that was not chronic, a frightening disturbance, to be sure, but one that could be isolated and vanquished. The menace of Spielberg's shark exposed a callous mayor worried about summertime profits, but it celebrated a local police chief and father, Roy Scheider's Martin Brody, who overcame fears and restored his place at the helm of public safety.