Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Golden Gate Bridge is ready for her close-up

“What do you want me to do, start with the Golden Gate Bridge?” asked James Stewart in the opening scene of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the first movie of 25 that I watched to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I had to do something to commemorate her birthday. The bridge is like an elegant elderly aunt to me, and always there when I need her.

After watching several films (and fast forwarding though a few of them), I began to look for the "Golden Gate Bridge" in the opening credits. Why not? The bridge has a body of work like other movie stars. She establishes place, is heroic in her survivor skills, serves as a metaphor for relationships, and provides an emotionally familiar site for the climax to occur. Sometimes, like a movie star, she only has to stand there looking pretty, like in Murder in the First when she serves as a respite for the viewer after warden Gary Oldham repeatedly tortures prisoner Kevin Bacon at Alcatraz Island.

For me, X3: The Last Stand takes the Oscar for best use of the bridge when Ian McKellen, head honcho mutant, uproots the 887,000-ton span from its abutments and drops it between San Francisco and Alcatraz so that Juggernaut doesn't have to wet his toes.

Another Oscar goes to Rise of the Planet of the Apes for its use of the bridge as a swing structure for the juiced-up apes to head towards Muir Woods and world domination. Austin, my 28-year-old stepson, liked Monsters vs. Aliens best (how did I miss that when it came out!). Dave, my husband, gave his Oscar to Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.

After 9/11, I feared for the bridge's safety, probably because it is so often destroyed in movies. As Hilary Swank and Aaron Eckhart travel to the inner core of the earth to get the mantle spinning again in The Core, a solar wave zaps the bridge into ash. Another giant squid breaks the bridge after it climbs the south tower to avoid electrocution in It Came From Beneath the Sea.

Even without stalled molten cores and giant squid, the bridge has longevity issues. With its 1.2 million rivets, new acrylic paint job, and the improved bracing it got in the 1950s, the bridge has so far withstood high winds and earthquakes. Knock steel.

When asked in 1937 how long the bridge could last, engineer Joseph Strauss said, "Forever!" That might sound like a proud parent talking, but Andrew W. Herrmann, current president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, agrees it is possible as long as the needed maintenance and rehabilitation is done.

The creators of Star Trek envision the bridge lasting at least another 300 years. It still stands in stardate 2286 when Kirk beams a humpback whale through time and a cosmic storm. Star Trek creators didn't include the iconic bridge in three movies and a handful of episodics because they were certain of its lifespan. They put it there to help us feel safe as we envision the future. In that way, it tethers us to a world we know as we consider a future we don't, complete with cosmic storms, giant squid, and hopefully, humpback whales.

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