Someone should tell filmmaker Eric Steel to go jump off a bridge. His documentary, "The Bridge," is about the sad fact that San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge is also a monument to suicide. Or rather it's a magnet for it — obviously appearing to some distraught or resigned people like a gigantic revolver in the sky. Around two dozen hurl themselves from it every year.

The New Yorker did a fascinating story on the bridge as a tool for suicide a few years ago. Steel does not come close to following its in-depth reporting. His focus rather was to spend months hanging around the bridge hoping to catch some live suicides on tape, then interview the jumpers' family members, at least the ones who would talk to him. Cut. Edit. Print. Now that's journalism.

"The Bridge" contains its share of fascination, but it's along the lines of watching Britney Spears get out of the back of a Lincoln with no panties on and then interviewing the driver. This is pure exploitation, with only a smidgen of humanity separating it from a "Faces of Death" episode.

That smidgen is the interviews with family members and friends, who mostly try to talk about their lost sister, father or companion with clarity and truth. Their focus tends not to be on the bridge, but on the experiences and state of mind of the loved one who might have led them to jump from it. The fact that to them the bridge is no different from a shotgun or piece of rope is completely lost on Steel, who tries crudely and in vain to glue the two parts of his home video together.

The proliferation of bogus documentaries like this is alarming. But it's easy to make them, especially compared to a narrative film, so they saturate the market and make it harder for more responsible documentaries to be taken seriously. It's a fact that makes you want to jump off the nearest bridge. (R) S

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