A documentary by George Orr. Rating unavailable
Saturday, June 17, marks the 60th anniversary of one of the worst construction disasters in Canadian history. On that date in 1958, temporary supports holding a major section of the Second Narrows bridge collapsed, killing 18 workers outright and claiming the life of a diver the next day.
This year’s remembrance also sees the debut of The Bridge, an hourlong feature re-creating the event and its aftermath. Though directed by doc veteran George Orr, it is really the life’s work of engineer Peter Hall, a transplanted Brit now living on Vancouver Island. Back then, he was a 26-year-old draftsman working his first gig for the Dominion Bridge Company, and was somewhat randomly tasked with documenting the massive undertaking. That meant getting to know many of the 79 ironworkers on the job and treading the girders with them—with nary a safety harness in sight—in order to capture all major developments, from drawing board to final opening.
The novice cameraman arrived late the morning of the collapse, and so didn’t shoot it (or worse). The bridge was repaired and completed, obviously, but 3,000 feet of 16mm film were literally shelved, with tin canisters staring at Hall for almost six decades. Over the years, as he quietly explains on-screen, he asked Dominion and others if they could do something with the footage, and got no takers until Orr signed on.
The results are better suited to local television than to movie theatres. Bad lighting, uneven sound, atrocious typography, and needless repetition dominate its aesthetics, stitched together with the kind of industrial-film narration that used to sell detergent and nuclear power. In a weird way, that’s okay, since these stale-dated ingredients inadvertently help The Bridge capture a bygone era, when Canada was a raw, largely anglophone place, then under new construction.
In any case, Hall’s footage—burnished by time but still lively with rich, rose-hued colours—is unfailingly gorgeous. It does credit to the men who lived and died on the project, subsequently renamed the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing (not in common parlance, regardless of what CBC great Rick Cluff insists here). But the movie best comes to life at the very end, when the talking stops and snippets of his material are married to a Stompin’ Tom Connors song recalling the event.