“It’s Just Bluefish”

By Grant Williams   | March 5, 2013

Anybody who has heard of Tommy Johnson has my undying admiration (and a guaranteed spot in perpetuity on any pub quiz team that I am a member of).

Description: :tuba.pngJohn Thomas Johnson, who sadly passed away in October of 2006, was an American orchestral tuba player. In all, Johnson played on more than 2,000 film soundtracks and became Hollywood’s ‘first-call’ tuba player after his debut performance on the score for Al Capone in 1958. The list of his film credits is a veritable treasure trove of classic celluloid: The Godfather, Back To The Future, The Matrix, the Indiana Jones series, the first five Police Academy movies, and Cats and Dogs, starring Jeff Goldblum and Elizabeth Perkins, to name but a few. Johnson also played his tuba for the TV series The Flintstones.

In 1975, Johnson received a call from John Williams (the composer, not the ShadowStats compiler, I hasten to add), who asked him if he was available to play on the latest score that Williams had composed, for a collaboration with a young director shooting his fifth movie — an adaptation of a best-selling novel by Peter Benchley that had been published in February 1974 and caused a sensation, remaining firmly entrenched on the bestseller list for 44 weeks.

The rights to the movie had been bought prior to its publication by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, who happened to read a draft version and clearly had an eye for a hit.

The movie was released to great critical acclaim on June 20, 1975; and it marked a watershed in movie history, becoming the first ‘summer blockbuster’ and setting the trend for a slew of big ‘event’ movie releases, hyped and built up over months, whose debuts in the world’s cinemas were timed to coincide with the long, lazy days of vacation season.

The young director in question was Steven Spielberg. The movie was Jaws.

According to an interview Johnson gave in 2004 to one of my favourite (though sadly no longer operational) websites, tubanews.com (the leading tuba news site on the net), on the day he was slated to record the ‘voice’ of the shark, he arrived late at the studio and, upon opening his music, found himself faced with a strange passage in a high register which he felt seemed more appropriate for the French horn.

Williams told Johnson that he wanted something that sounded ‘a little more threatening’ for the ‘voice’ of the shark.

Job done.

In the nearly 40 years since its release, Jaws has gone on to rake in $470.7 million at the US box office alone, which is about the same as the domestic gross of 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises; but, as testament to the depreciation of the almighty dollar, the movie is still the 9th-highest-grossing film of all time, with a massive $1,945,100,000 in inflation-adjusted box office earnings.

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Three years later, with Spielberg opting not to direct, Jaws 2 was released, accompanied by one of the most famous taglines of all time:

‘Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Water’

Everybody who has seen the original Jaws movie remembers the classic scene when a shell-shocked Chief Brody (played by Roy Scheider) backs his way into Quint’s (Robert Shaw’s) cockpit after both he and the audience have witnessed the full size of the shark for the first time, and utters the immortal line, ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat’; but I dare say very few amongst you would be able to recite any of the dialogue from the sequel.

The title of this edition of Things That Make You Go Hmmm…, however, comes from a scene in Jaws 2 that for some strange reason popped into my head during my recent travels. Fortunately, thanks to the miracle of YouTube, I was able to find the scene, watch it in its entirety, and transcribe the dialogue for the front cover.

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The scene takes place on the beach at Amity Island, with an extremely nervous Chief Brody up in his watchtower as holidaymakers frolic in the surf. He is clearly agitated (hardly surprising, since he has been face to face with a huge Great White and has watched it bite Quint in half) as he scans the ocean through his binoculars, looking for trouble.

Seeing an ominous shadow moving beneath the water towards the helpless swimmers, Brody frantically rings the warning bell and screams at everyone to get out of the water. When his cries go unheeded he climbs down the ladder and runs towards the ocean like a man possessed, yelling at everyone to get out, now.

Still his warning goes unheeded, and so he takes out his gun and fires six shots at the shadow lurking in the ocean, and panic ensues amongst the bathers.

Then a man in the crowd (wearing a rather fetching green trucker’s cap) blurts out that the shadow is nothing more than a school of bluefish.

The mayor of Amity Island and several counsellors look on aghast — they can virtually see Brody’s antics sucking away tourist dollars from a town reliant upon them for survival.

The scene ends with a forlorn-looking Brody, a man who has seen the truth of the horrors that lurk beneath the water’s surface, picking up his spent cartridges on the now deserted beach, helped by his young son.

Of course, as even those amongst you who haven’t been fortunate enough to catch Jaws 2 can probably guess, Brody’s fears are later realized when a huge man-eating shark does go on a rampage, killing tourists left and right and making everybody fervently wish they had heeded the warnings from the crazy man to stay out of the water.

Now, this is a scene that plays out on a regular basis in the world of finance, I am afraid; and so once again we find there are quite a few supposedly crazy people in watchtowers all around the world screaming at people to get out of all kinds of markets before their capital is devoured. Sadly, and so painfully soon after 2006 and 2007, nobody seems to be listening.

Take that crazy man Kyle Bass, for example….

To continue reading this article from Things That Make You Go Hmmm… – a free weekly newsletter by Grant Williams, a highly respected financial expert and current portfolio and strategy advisor at Vulpes Investment Management in Singapore – please click here.

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