Remembering Richard Kiel

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 16 September 2014.

My Kiel Autograph

In pop culture, it’s funny how the time of your introduction to long running franchises gives you a sense of connection to a particular era of that television or film series. Although I watched from behind the sofa the never ending repeats of Tom Baker era Doctor Who episodes at half past five on Channel 2, my initial taste of first run Time Lord adventures starred Sylvester McCoy as the seventh Doctor. Although generally maligned, and probably the least popular of the incarnations, Sylvester McCoy is my Doctor.

The same with James Bond. My cinematic introduction to 007 was at the now defunct Hoyts Roxy at Parramatta. Sitting alongside my grandmother, I was dazzled by the smooth talking exploits of…err…Timothy Dalton. Sure, there are higher points in the franchise, but the Welsh actor is my James Bond.

I can’t say that the same phenomenon has occurred for Bond villains. By the late eighties, the bad guys were less cartoony and certainly less memorable. I can therefore only assume that my affinity for the metal mouthed giant Jaws came from repeat TV airings of Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me, most likely on Channel 10 and ushered in by Bill Collins.

Richard Kiel, the 7’2” actor who portrayed Jaws, sadly passed away last week. I fortunately had the pleasure of meeting Mr Kiel when he visited Sydney for the Supanova Pop Culture Expo in May.

From all appearances, Kiel was not in the best of health. He struggled to move from his motorised scooter to the signing table. I had a brief chat with him and throughout he could barely lift his head to make eye contact with me. I had brought along a vintage 1979 Scanlens Moonraker sticker set for signing and he had a lot of trouble manipulating the card with his huge hands. Apparently a car accident in 1992 had made his mobility very difficult. Sadly, this gentle giant appeared to be succumbing to gravity.

When Kiel attended a panel alongside one-off Aussie Bond George Lazenby, he rode into the room on his scooter and stayed there throughout the whole session. However, once engaged in telling tales from his Bond days and beyond, his face lit up.

Kiel proudly told the audience how he had received a special watch from the Broccoli family and MGM to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bond film franchise. He spoke very fondly of Roger Moore and their ongoing friendship, as well as regaled us in some stories of their off-screen antics.

Happy Gilmore

I had no idea that Kiel had such a distinguished career, with over 50 TV series appearances and dozens of film credits to his name. One of his final on-screen appearances was as Mr Larson in the Adam Sandler comedy, Happy Gilmore. Kiel described how the majority of his shots are from the waist up, and that the only 2 scenes with him standing have him leaning on something.

Although never surpassing his role in Bond, Hollywood has lost a beloved icon. There may be many James Bonds but there will only be one Jaws.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 14:35  Leave a Comment  
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The Return of Jaws

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd July 2012.

As a child I thought that whenever I went to the beach, I’d know if a shark was coming because I would hear the Jaws theme first. Da dum, da dum. I definitely had not seen the film at that time, but I still knew what those two simple notes played on a tuba represented: a primal, relentless man eater.

In fact, it actually represents a disobedient, rubber, hydraulic shark named Bruce. The stories of Steven Spielberg’s shoot for Jaws, his second feature film, are stuff of Hollywood legend. Shot on location on Martha’s Vineyard, production was hampered by delays and glitches. Platforms sank, boats took on water when the actors climbed aboard and Bruce never worked properly out in the open sea. Over budget and one hundred days over schedule, Spielberg thought he would never be given the Director’s chair again.

Of course, Jaws went on to be a box office smash, the first true summer blockbuster. As for Spielberg, well, you know what happened.

My first experience with the Jaws franchise was completely out of chronological order. Somehow, I managed to convince my grandmother that seeing Jaws 3-D at the now defunct Hoyts Roxy in Parramatta was a good idea. This was in 1983, so 3D movies involved a pair of cardboard old school glasses. I’ll never forget the terror I experienced witnessing a severed arm floating out of the screen at me. I screamed when the mother shark silently approaches the underwater control room window and then shattered the glass towards the audience.

I know now that the true horror of Jaws 3-D is actually Louis Gossett Jr. and Dennis Quaid’s acting. Actually, the whole film is an abomination.

You would think that my next step would be to seek out the original film. Unfortunately in 1987, I found myself at the Greater Union drive-in at Blacktown with my aunty, to witness Jaws: The Revenge in a double feature with Summer School (starring a pre-NCIS Mark Harmon).

Even at the age of 12, I could tell that this movie was a stinker. Star Michael Caine admits he did it to pay for a new house and have a great holiday in The Bahamas. The storyline is ridiculous. After the introduction of sharks as silent primal killers in the first film, we are supposed to believe that they are actually vengeful family minded creatures that will follow the wife of the original protagonist to the tropics to seek retribution for the murder of their fishy relatives.

The ending of the Jaws: The Revenge is a classic. The shark is impaled on a boat’s bowsprit and explodes. That’s correct. There are no combustible materials involved. The shark just explodes.

Despite my initial experiences, I did go on to appreciate Spielberg’s original masterpiece and its serviceable sequel. And that’s why I am very excited that Jaws will finally receive a high def makeover for its release on blu-ray in August. In celebration of Universal Studio’s 100th Anniversary, there will also be several one off screenings of the restored print around the country.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, Jaws returns in stunning blu-ray to scare the pants off a new generation of fans. And make sure you keep an ear out for that theme tune next time you hit the surf. It may save your life.

Published in: on July 5, 2012 at 02:30  Leave a Comment  
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