People suffer largely unnoticed while the rest of the world goes about its business. This is a documentary exploration of the mythic beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, the most popular ...
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Dana Heinz Perry
Evan Scott Perry,
Dana Heinz Perry,
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People suffer largely unnoticed while the rest of the world goes about its business. This is a documentary exploration of the mythic beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, the most popular suicide destination in the world, and those drawn by its call. Steel and his crew filmed the bridge during daylight hours from two separate locations for all of 2004, recording most of the two dozen deaths in that year (and preventing several others). They also taped interviews with friends, families and witnesses, who recount in sorrowful detail stories of struggles with depression, substance abuse and mental illness. Raises questions about suicide, mental illness and civic responsibility as well as the filmmaker's relationship to his fraught and complicated material. Written by
Steel interviewed relatives of the suicide victims, not informing them that he had footage of their loved ones' deaths. Later, he claimed that "the family members now, at this point, have seen the film, [and are] glad that they participated in it." See more »
[after witnessing a suicide]
When I talked to the highway patrolman, I asked him "Is this a rare occurrence or does this happen a lot?" And he looked and me and he sort of smiled and he said, "It happens all the time."
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Several reviewers have criticized this film for its moral/ethical bankruptcy. They point out that if film crews were at the Golden Gate Bridge monitoring jumpers and filming them (often from multiple cameras), they could have done more to prevent the tragedies. If you take that approach to watching this film, you will certainly be offended.
But I don't believe it was the intent of the filmmakers to make any sort of moral/ethical statement. Rather, they simply present us with an eye through which we see what happens in the world. It's no different from a National Geographic special which tracks a leopard stalking some unsuspecting gazelle and the bloody carnage that ensues. Should the camera crews be criticized for not warning the gazelle?
OK, enough of the ethical debate. Chances are, if you're prepared to see live footage of people jumping off bridges, you won't get too bent out of shape at the underlying morality (or lack thereof). Let me just say that it was tastefully done--or as tastefully as you can do a subject like this.
Interviews with well-spoken, competent individuals added a refreshing, "scientific" approach to this highly emotional subject. Yes, family members and close friends are interviewed, but (unlike Fox News et al) we don't get the hysterical, weepy ad hominem clips. Instead we get very lucid and enlightening insights as spoken by the people who knew the victims well. Overall, it presents a compelling point of view, far more provoking than the usual "suicide is evil, and all suicidal people are losers" mantra which we often hear. If you are a psychology student or if you are in some way familiar with severe depression, this is a great film to watch. It documents the last hours of those who have truly gone to the extreme of mental anguish. This subject has been taboo for centuries, and I'm not quite sure why. But I'm glad to see that films like this are bringing it into the open.
MY ONLY CRITICISM: While most "jumping" scenes were handled well, there are a few which I found a bit tacky. This was due to the camera work being a bit too greedy. When the individual climbs onto the ledge, suddenly we see the camera jockeying into position as if to get the best view of the fall. Sometimes the overzealous camera operator jumps the gun and pans down to the water far ahead of the body. This comes across as just a tad bit bloodthirsty. But hey, I guess I'd get a little excited behind the lens, too.
But really that's a minor criticism. In contrast, I have to praise the film for being professionally done, even with a decent musical score (not too sappy, not too sterile). But really it's the objectivity and lack of obvious bias which makes it a great documentary, something which Michael Moore could learn a lot from (sorry, someone had to say it). Also, just because it's a documentary, don't expect that it'll be linear and boring. The filmmakers were very adept at weaving suspense and an underlying drama which culminates with a truly stunning climax at the end. I must applaud this film on both an academic and an artistic level.
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