Eric Steel's deeply disquieting documentary about death and the Golden Gate Bridge opens with a shocking, hard-to-shake image. On a gloriously sunny day, seemingly happy pedestrians stroll along the magnificent, mile-long suspension bridge's walkway, when suddenly and without warning, one man hops over the railing and plummets to his death. According to the Bridge Office, this was no isolated incident. In 2004, the year Steel set up cameras on the opposite banks of the Golden Gate Strait with the express purpose of filming the bridge for one whole year, 24 people jumped to their deaths. Famous as one of the seven wonders of the modern world and the second longest suspension bridge in existence, the Golden Gate Bridge also holds the grimmer distinction of being the world's No. 1 suicide destination. Steel's plan to film the bridge was inspired by "Jumpers," Tad Friend's New Yorker piece about the phenomenon, although Steel wanted to take it further by examining the lives of the men and women whose deaths he captured on tape, and the ways their suicides affected witnesses and the friends and family left behind. Steel focuses on a select few: Lisa Smith, a 44-year-old schizophrenic who was reportedly laughing as she jumped; 22-year-old Philip Manikow, whose mother says seemed drawn to the bridge from the moment he first saw it as a child; Ruby Rubenstein, who left behind a guilt-ridden friend; and depressed metalhead Gene Sprague, whose agonizing pacing is interspersed throughout the film — he finally makes his move in the final moments. Not everyone who breaches the surprisingly low railing dies — one woman is grabbed by a pedestrian, while another actually survives the plummet into the Bay — but far too many do. It's troubling stuff to be sure, and it helps to know that Steel tried to intervene, notifying the Bridge Office whenever it became apparent that one of the many people walking along the bridge and looking down into the water was about to jump. The problem is knowing who's suicidal before it's too late, and that's a big part of what makes watching Steel's footage such a harrowing experience. The film avoids theorizing about why the bridge should exert such a hold over the imaginations of suicides all over the world, but Steel's dramatic cinematography, particularly the distorted telephoto shots that make the bridge loom even larger than it already does in life, provide one answer. Gazing upon the bridge, particularly when the fog hangs so low over San Francisco Bay that its massive towers seem to poke through the sky itself, one learns the true meaning of the term "awesome." It's not so hard to imagine how this most beautiful of man-made structures might fill even the most cockeyed optimist with thoughts of insignificance, despair and self-destruction.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: NR
- Review: Eric Steel's deeply disquieting documentary about death and the Golden Gate Bridge opens with a shocking, hard-to-shake image. On a gloriously sunny day, seemingly happy pedestrians stroll along the magnificent, mile-long suspension bridge's walkway, when… (more)
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