(2006) dir. Eric Steel
This very controversial documentary, not merely about the Golden Gate Bridge, but more specifically about people who jump to their deaths from it, ultimately is a remarkable and compelling film, whose inherent voyeurism is part of the parcel but certainly pushes far beyond that. Filmed under some surreptitious pretenses, the filmmakers got their licenses to shoot the Golden Gate Bridge up close in that they were doing something more traditional because the assumption (rightly so due to the outrage it inspired) was that they would never be allowed to shoot the bridge over the span of a year with the explicit intent of catching people jumping to their deaths as happens with great frequency from the amazing landmark. Certainly, there is something utter morbid and voyeuristic about this. Catching people on film as they die is one of the most shocking and taboo images that such a medium can capture.
The Bridge‘s power and impact certainly is tied to these images. In many ways, the images themselves are not graphic in the sense of traditional violence. It is their verity that makes them so shocking, so upsetting, so strange. The film would still be nothing but this if it wasn’t for the care and sensitivity that it attempts to bring to the subject of suicide, the interviews with some of the friends and families of the people who are captured jumping to their deaths. Mental illness seems prevalent in the stories, and for most of the people interviewed, there is some sense of inevitability to the stories of the jumpers, long battles with depression or schizophrenia, tortured lives, led to this dramatic spot that offers a simple step to oblivion.
The bridge is dramatic itself. Having lived in San Francisco for many years, I, as many do, have a deep love for the engineering and design of the magnificent span and its dramatic setting, crossing the inlet to the San Francisco Bay, connecting the gorgeous hills of Marin County to the Presidio of San Francisco. Shot from a multitude of angles, sides, in weather, in sunlight, in its classic shroud of fog, the bridge itself stands, a silent steady image, deeply beautiful and profound, whose own beauty and character, as well as its ease of access, has made it the site of the most suicides of any place in the world, so much so, that these deaths are not reported in local news, though their frequency of occurrence is profound, 24 recorded in 2004, the year that this film was shot.
The local angle in some ways makes this compelling film even more so for me, and I have the weirdest thing to liken it to, though it is totally, utterly different. But it resonated with me in a similar sense to 24 Hours on Craigslist (2005), which also captures a point in time in our city, a snapshot, if nothing else.
Additional to this, for me, is my own experience with depression which actually hit its lowest points in 2004, here in the city. I never went to the bridge or really considered the bridge at the time, but the stories of people who face these thoughts and challenges are much like other friends and acquaintances who I met through the time dealing with similar problems, not unlike these people in many ways. It resonates in ways therefor different from others most likely.
My experience with this film is as profound as any that I have had in a long time. I think its power has a lot to do with its imagery, with its shocking simplicity, the knowledge of people who drop to their deaths — that these images are real, tragic, sad, and strange. I do not know how I completely feel about this film, but I think it is a complex and challenging document, a film that I think is successful in its intent, but must not forget its exploitative and voyeuristic nature as well. I certainly recommend watching the short film about the documentarians included on the disc as it gives some perspective on the film’s intent and production.