Directed by Eric Steel
Currently available via DVD and iTunes
"The Bridge" is, on the face of it, the most picturesque snuff film ever made. As you watch, 23 people haul themselves up over the chest-high red rail of the Golden Gate Bridge and drop 245 feet to the frigid chop of San Francisco Bay. But there's far more than mere prurience to Eric Steel's controversial 2006 documentary, freshly rereleased on disc and now available on iTunes.
To be sure, there is something voyeuristic, and more than a little morbid, about Steel's film. In 2004, he hired a brace of camera operators to film the bridge during daylight hours for the entire year—someone jumps about every two weeks, on average. In some cases, Steel's cameras capture them in blurry telephoto images, often pacing back and forth for agonizing minutes before finally climbing over. The operator can never keep them in frame as they plunge toward terminal velocity. In wide shots that encompass the entire bridge, a few beats may pass before you notice a tiny, haunting splash on the face of the bay.
But Steel also tracked down the families and friends of many of those who jumped, as well as witnesses, and the resulting interviews delve into the jumpers' lives and the forces that drove them to do it. Lisa Smith, a paranoid schizophrenic, laughed as if with relief before she jumped. Gene Sprague warned friends that he was going to kill himself until no one paid any attention to it anymore—and then he did. While "The Bridge" offers nothing so neat as "an answer," it conducts a compelling exploration of the mysteries of troubled souls and the fatal glamour of the place where many of them chose to die.