Eric Steel

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The Bridge

Steel, Eric

Last Updated: Jan-16-2009
Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film


After reading Tad Friend's article, "Jumpers: The Fatal Grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge" in an October 2003 issue of The New Yorker, filmmaker Eric Steel became so fascinated by the mystery of the final, dark moments of a human being who makes the long journey across the bridge to his or her death that he finagled $100,000 worth of equipment and moved from New York to San Francisco.  At 5:00 AM on a rainy New Year's Day in 2004, Steel and his ragtag crew set up their cameras, beginning a strange year-long vigil.  Training telephoto lenses on the mid-span of the bridge, they peered intently from dawn to dusk, watching for "suspicious behavior" or a "sense of despair" among the crowds passing back and forth.  During that year of filming, twenty-two people ended their lives, some caught on tape and some not; however, six attempts were thwarted by the film crew who became quite adept at indentifying potential victims and alerting the Bridge Patrol. 

Photographed from multiple perspectives, at all times of day, and in all kinds of weather, the Golden Gate Bridge is the main character of this documentary film.  It is formidable; it is magnificent; it is ominous; it is alluring.  According to the film:  "More people have chosen to end their lives [here] than anywhere else in the world."  The sublime images not only capture the many facets and features of the structure, but they also illustrate the emotions and represent the psychology of the other narratives intertwined in the film:  the stories of seven individuals who jumped from the bridge during the course of that year.

There is thirty-four year-old Gene, a haunting figure dressed all in black whose story begins and ends the documentary.  Like the film crew, we watch him prowl the bridge day after day, his long dark hair whipping in the wind until he makes that final leap, a dramatic backward dive.  There is forty-four year-old Lisa, who has suffered throughout her adult life with schizophrenia and who disappears off the bridge on Easter Sunday afternoon.  And there is twenty-two year-old Philip whose parents relate the history of their son's struggle with mental illness.

In addition to using footage of the bridge being obscured by fog as an evocative image of the progressive suffocation of self, the filmmaker employs long shots of the island of Alcatraz to symbolize the prison of mental illness.  Indeed, Philip's father describes his son's leap from the bridge as a release, "the only way he could get free."

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