If I had seen Eric Steel’s 2006 documentary The Bridge at a different time in life, I have no doubts that I would have been impressed by it without reservations. Steel hired a team of cameramen to film the Golden Gate Bridge for one year, focusing explicitly on the people who chose the bridge as the location for their suicide. Steel then interviewed the families and friends of the deceased to try and deduce the conditions and events that lead to that person ending their life. It’s a haunting, effective film that has the power to stimulate discussion about mental illness, exhibitionism, and the various factors that can lead to a suicide. The fact that I came to The Bridge through a graduate class on documentary ethics, however, means that the film is presented to me along with additional information about the making of the film.
Like many recession-focused documentaries made during the current economic downturn, the buzzworthy new documentary The Queen of Versailles follows a family as it struggles with a post-crisis financial transition. The difference with this new film is that instead of a middle-class factory worker dealing with a lost job or another everyman example, Versailles deals with an extremely wealthy family going from building the largest single-family residence in the world to losing most of their assets and having to stay in their smaller (but still pretty huge) mansion with reduced waitstaff. I’ve noticed that, when reviewing the film, many an online film critic takes the opportunity to show-off their documentary history knowledge and compare the film to the Maysles Brothers’ 1975 cult classic Grey Gardens.