The moment you land on Martha's Vineyard, there are cultural markers you either seek out or are made quickly aware of: Bill Clinton, as president, spent summer vacations here, browsing the Bunch of Grapes bookstore; Barack Obama followed his lead; James Taylor and Carly Simon, once married, lived here, seven miles off mainland Massachusetts, and continue to live here separately; John Belushi is buried in Chilmark; and in 1974, a 28-year-old Steven Spielberg mostly made "Jaws" here.
That last bit, arguably more than any of the others, is particularly ingrained in the island's heart and soul.
How else to explain the sheer heft, scope and overwhelming enthusiasm behind "Jaws: Memories From Martha's Vineyard," a coffee-table book from first-time author Matt Taylor that feels unlike any movie book, or even any travel book, ever published? No joke: It is 296 very large pages crammed with oral history from islanders who watched the production intensely and at times took part. There are the salty voices of former harbor masters and the film crew — even Spielberg himself wrote an endearing foreword. There are the sketches of the shark, Universal telegrams, canceled checks, business cards, newspaper clippings.
The best part, though, is hundreds of pictures from locals, of boats anchored in Nantucket Sound, the crew drinking outside the saltboxes they lived in during production, the cast pacing through the island brush, Spielberg standing on a director's chair fixed at a water-lapped shore. And these people remember everything in a cranky New England manner that makes you long for the island: The voices of sea captains charged with ferrying crew members across the harbor can be heard swearing around the island, actor Murray Hamilton (who played the mayor) is remembered as getting drunk and petting a cat that actually was a skunk. My favorite is the picture of a dead shark (not the first) left on the doorstep of the production's offices by inconvenienced locals.
At $60, the paperback isn't cheap, but it is charming and hilariously obsessive — and as handsome and thorough as any book about a film production, as described by folks watching from the sidelines, could hope to be, a fond memory given shape and love.
Like any nostalgic sort, however, Taylor can't resist pushing it: "Jaws: Memories From Martha's Vineyard" also comes in a larger $250 hardcover, packaged with a DVD of 8 mm home movies (shot and narrated by a longtime islander) and, astonishingly, a bona fide 1-inch-square sliver of hull, chipped from the original Orca, the boat that hunted that great white shark so many years ago.