“Not a week passes without me receiving three, four or five letters from fans and requests for autographs, it’s constant,” Joe Alves told Lusa in an interview. “They come from all over the world,” he added. “It’s interesting, I don’t know why but the film appears to be many people’s favourite.”
This cult following made itself shown over the weekend at the Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences Museum, in Los Angeles, in a sold-out session where the legendary Luso American artist told the original “Jaws” story and autographed a book he co-wrote with Dennis Prince, “Designing Jaws.”
The work he carried out from 1973 to 1975 when the film debuted, didn’t leave him with any idea of the success it’d garner 50 years onwards.
“When we finished the film, we weren’t heroes, we had gone over our budget and our deadline,” he told. “The original sharks were thrown to a corner to rot.”
The miraculous stories of that time in which the studios system was still solidifying itself in Hollywood and Steven Spielberg was still young fascinated the audience at the Academy Museum. Alves, now 87 years old, presented enthusiasm in sharing the moment and the memories with fans.
“I designed the shark and Steven Spielberg wasn’t even on the film yet,” he remembered.
He also said that he had never been contacted by Portuguese journalists, and never was even asked about his ethnic heritage.
Joseph Manuel Alves was born in California, the son of two Portuguese emigrants who left the Northeast of Portugal, first in the direction of Hawaii and then towards the San Francisco Bay. It was there where they married, in an area with many other Portuguese emigrants who fixated themselves there over decades.
“I always had a lot of conscience of my Portuguese heritage,” Joe Alves said, explaining that he learned to speak some Portuguese while he grew up especially because of his grandparents, who didn’t speak English.
“My parents were very careful that I spoke English,” he stated. “They never spoke Portuguese at home, only when we visited family.” They did have a catholic church less than two blocks away and Joe Alves remembers the parties and community processions.
Five years ago, the artist visited Portugal to go looking for the house where his father was born, in a granite building with a green gate that’s said to be hundreds of years old.
“I had an old photo of the house, in a village in the Northeast of Portugal,” he told. He wandered the village searching for the house and ended up finding it, with the company of his wife and a couple they’re friends with.
It was there that the experience which left Joe Alves enchanted happened: they found a woman who invited them to enter, communicating through a translator on the phone.
“She invited us to have lunch and then took us to the apartment of a lady dressed in black, in a rocking chair, with a white cat on her lap.” The lady, aged 101 years, was the cousin of Joe Alves’ father who he found many years after his dad left the village behind.
Alves’ father’s cousin, born in 1904, offered them a chalice of Port wine and a look at blood ties which they had never dreamed of.
“Isn’t it incredible,” he asked. “I had the opportunity to get to know family members.” Alves characterised his journey as “very pleasant,” complimenting the country and its people. “The people are very kind, the food is excellent,” the artist affirmed. “Portugal is a marvellous experience.”
“Jaws” was a pioneering film that inaugurated the debuts of big summer blockbusters and created its own genre. Alves would come to work on “Jaws 2” (1978) and “Jaws 3D” (1983). Of his long list of credits, some highlights are “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) and “New York, 1997” (1981).