Tuesday, 24 July 2007
The Bridge (2006) dir. Eric Steel
If you thought you’d seen it all before on film, you haven’t. “The Bridge” is a fascinating entry into the new era of documentary cinema. It tells the story of suicide jumpers who take their lives by leaping off San Francisco’s famed Golden Gate Bridge. The key element being that we actually see the jumpers. I know what you’re thinking catching a suicide attempt on camera is like shooting a random car accident. Read on…
The film opens with a series of serene images of one of the world’s most recognizable structures. Nothing we haven’t seen before, the majestic red towers, the massive cables, the various views from around the San Francisco Bay area. We then see a montage of various people walking across the bridge – tourists, locals, bridge workers - until the camera focuses on one person. He looks around then casually steps over the railing and plunges into the water. Not knowing what the film was about, I was shocked by the image.
In 2004 director Eric Steel assembled a team of camera operators to shoot the Golden Gate Bridge and capture on screen all the suicide jumpers that would take their own lives over the course of the year. The Golden Gate Bridge is the most “popular” place for suicides in North America, so Steel knew that if he put in the time and effort he could compile one of the most remarkable video journals ever created.
And so he did with “Bridge”. Steel used two extremely long lensed cameras to frame its subjects from far away and observe the last moments of their lives with unobtrusive objectivity. Every day for a year Steel and his team were out there roving the across the bridge looking for possible candidates. Most days produced nothing but wasted video tape, but eventually they caught sight the horrific events they came to witness. Sounds sick doesn’t it?
The jumping footage is the hook to draw you in, but the heart of the film are the fascinating individual stories of the jumpers –interviews with friends and family enlighten us on the personal stories that drove Steel’s subjects to suicide. The families are surprisingly candid and well-spoken considering the recency of the events. The most compelling is Kevin Hines, a good-looking and articulate twenty-something who has suffered from depression his whole life. The tale he has to tell is one of the most compelling interviews I’ve seen in a documentary.
“The Bridge” effectively focuses solely on its individual stories. Therefore we are saved the obligatory archival moments of the Bridge, or interviews with its architects or historians - if you want to see the history of the Bridge watch “Frontiers of Construction”. Steel keeps his music understated and quiet and doesn’t overwhelm us with drama, or sentimentality. Steel keeps it all matter-of-fact and doesn’t offer any solutions or help for people in the audience actually thinking of the suicide. Some might say it furthers the mystique of the bridge jumper, but clearly this is not “Faces of Death”, or even “Dateline NBC”. Steels appears to have justified any exploitation of their deaths in the most compelling and credible way.
As I sat in my home and watched it with my wife, there was complete silence for the duration of the film. It was only when it was over could we talk about it. It’s an experience. Enjoy.
PS. Don’t forget to watch the special features. There’s an interesting set of interviews with the cameramen and women who shot the footage.
Buy it here: The Bridge