Your Collapsing Bridge
May 24, 2018
“I remember seeing the ‘Galloping Gertie’ Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse in a Physics class in high school,” Lucy Walker told The Atlantic, “and the surprising image of something as sturdy and robust-looking as a mighty bridge twisting and twirling like rope—and ultimately snapping—has always stayed with me.”
In 2017, Walker, an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker, was asked to make a short film inspired by the theme of “bridges” for the annual TEDWomen conference. “One of the first things I always do when approaching a subject is to think about poetry on similar themes,” Walker said. Immediately, she called to mind Kate Rushin’s “The Bridge Poem,” which originally appeared in the groundbreaking feminist anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981). “I got excited about the potential of matching the scintillating bridge footage with this brilliant, timely poem,” said Walker.
Rushin’s potent words evoke the chasm between her experience as a black woman and that of her majority-white cohort. “I’ve got to explain myself / To everybody,” her poem reads. “Sick of being the sole Black friend to 34 individual white people… I’m sick of filling in your gaps.”
To create the short film Bridge Poem, Walker sourced footage of the 1940 Tacoma bridge collapse from the University of Washington Library. The uneven texture of the aged 16mm film, combined with its startling imagery and Rushin’s words, creates a kind of torsion—a cinematic, personal expression of the physics behind the bridge failure.
“The poem bites hard in today’s moment, 37 years after it was written,” said Walker. “It’s not a nice poem or a cliché sentiment. It’s here to shake us and snap our expectations, just like the bridge writhes and severs.”
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Author: Emily Buder
About This Series
A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.