DATELINE: Ken Burns Classic
In 1982 Ken Burns made a name for himself with this small, unassuming and brilliant documentary about the fifteen-year process to build the iconic, magical Brooklyn Bridge.
The film made his reputation and sent him on a career as a ground-breaking documentarian. What’s left nearly forty years later is the masterpiece of film on the masterpiece of engineering.
To take it in again after so many decades and find it as fresh and charming as when first seen is like the chance to walk across the East River like one of those who saw it like the first man to walk on the Moon.
John Roebling came from Germany as Hegel’s favorite student and a brilliant bridge maker. He designed the way to cross the river between New York and Brooklyn in three months. Then, fate intervened, giving him tetanus and killing him. It left the job then to his 30-year old son and Civil War hero Col. Washington Roebling.
David McCollough lends his narrative presence, but familiar voices dot the film: Julie Harris, Kurt Vonnegut, and others.
The dangerous caissons gave Roebling the bends, and he recovered but never fully. He managed to oversee the bridge construction from his third-floor bedroom with binoculars. His wife supervised and learned engineering to carry out on-site work.
Great Lewis Mumford lends his presence here to the cultural viewpoint with a poetic expression of his walk across the bridge as a young man. There are clips of Frank Sinatra in a movie in love with the Bridge, and even Bugs Bunny puts in an appearance.
The Bridge is monumental, inspirational, beautiful, and a cathedral of the national pride.
This is definitely American pie.