Eric Steel's little-seen documentary on suicide jumpers off of the Golden Gate Bridge is so compelling and somehow horrifically spellbinding in its connection to humanity, and at the same time not exploitive of the lives lost. Steel is also not out to make some big answer to suicide, which would be totally futile (he also, wisely, doesn't include any real "official" types of interviewees like officers or psychologists). His method is very precise but extremely effective due to the focus: there's interviews with the late subject's families and friends, and the bridge itself as an entity unto itself. On the one hand, there are many visually alluring shots of the golden gate bridge, shot at different speeds (sometimes regular, sometimes at 16 or less FPS to give it that faster edge), sometimes in a great fog or looking at the cars, from below, and in a constant long lens that peers onto everyone on the bridge, just regular passer-by or one contemplating the end of one's life, like anything could happen next since it is, in fact, strikingly idyllic. I'm reminded of Herzog with much of Steels' visual prowess, especially in the matter of it being something that is very absorbing in its scenic escapism, but with that the connotation that there's a very great danger about it too. It's part of this that lures people in, by the way, with the leaps to their fates.
Yet the stronger emotional impulses in the film remind me more-so of something out of a Bergman film, where psycho-analysis can only go so far, and the general connectedness between human beings is shown to be the most fragile thing in existence. We see the testimonies from those who were close friends, parents, siblings, one who stopped a woman from jumping, and even one who survived the long plunge to the river. They all are not similar, which is a very important point that Steel has here; it's not the simple concept that many people have about suicide which is that the person is a total outsider with no human contact and depressed beyond all reason. Actually, the latter is a big part of it, in many of the stories presented, but it's never as clean-cut as one would assume. There are people who are seemingly happy and then go further and further into feeling as if there is no end, there are others who are, needless to say, clinically insane (or some who, as a given, are looking for attention in a supremely dramatic way). And yet through all of the testimonies, nothing feels forced in what they're saying, and because of the natural explanations and stories told, there's more insight than one might find in someone making grand statements. There's too much grief in these individuals for that, and despite some declarations of religion having something to do with it, what one woman says about her friend jumping about the "romantic" side of it is accurate: it's romantic only for a moment, until the jump comes, which is no fun.
Steel keeps coming back throughout the documentary to the story of Gene, a black-clad long-haired rocker who wasn't perhaps the most hopeless case out of those presented elsewhere in the film, at least at first. It's evocative of the nature of friendship and of trying to understand one another to see how Gene was seen, at first, as being sarcastic with his "I'm gonna kill myself" comments, and only after things start going worse is there a sense of worry (in retrospect, as it is). It's also something of Steel's most controversial choice in the film (controversial among those who criticized the film anyway) to keep cutting back to Gene walking back and forth on the bridge, like and un-like everyone else just going by during the day. So far the viewer has seen sudden plunges from people who only looked over the railing a few seconds before plummeting before someone could stop. Gene, on the other hand, lasts seemingly hours, and Steel never intervenes or stops the filming. This might be, perhaps as indicated by the interviews from his friends and his mother, that he would have found a way to end his life anyway, if not by the bridge. But the contemplation, the staggering amount of information that we're told about Gene as the climax reaches to his plummet, is what makes it such an impact, because of what the bridge itself ends up representing.
The Bridge is also something that, ultimately, could be of some very good use for people who come across it eventually on DVD or on TV. No one can ever completely understand why someone is totally on the path to the ultimate destruction- in this case to nothingness via the landmark and romanticized backdrop from Vertigo- and the film probably only scratches the surface as to why this or why that. But by putting real human beings up on the screen, by having the audience see glimpses of the grief, despair, resentment, and (for some) sense of peace about what has happened to those closest to them, he makes it a testament to the lives that were lost, and still are lost, at such a place as the Golden Gate Bridge. It hopefully, too, may inspire a little extra watch by authorities on those closest to the railings, peering down as if into some abstract abyss.
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