Golden Gate

Author: William Brown
Format: Video
Duration: 23′ 50″
Published: March 2020

Research Statement

Research Questions
The Golden Gate Bridge recurs repeatedly in films about the end of life, the birth of artificial intelligence, autism, alien invasion and the control of woman – all of which are in turn linked by the production and restriction of the ‘others’ of patriarchal capitalism (machines, aliens, racial others, neurodivergent others, women). This video-essay helps to clarify precisely how and why this is so – because the bridge is itself perhaps an example of what Jane Bennett (2009) would term ‘vibrant matter,’ which stands at the end of the western world and which is located near to the heart of the digital tech industry (Silicon Valley). Golden Gate endeavours, then, to suggest the links established across 43 movies between the end of the western world and the end of patriarchal man.

Being composed of sounds and images from 43 pre-existing films, there is a large body of work that draws upon the icon that is the Golden Gate Bridge for expressive purposes. This video-essay seeks to clarify how this is so.

Golden Gate is not the first film quite to do this, in that Guy Maddin’s Green Fog (with Evan and Galen Johnson, USA, 2017) appeared shortly before I finished an initial edit of this film. However, Golden Gate is more ‘academic’ than Maddin’s film, in that it makes more explicit – even if via ‘suggestive’ or ‘poetic’ means – the ‘life’ of objects, including here the Golden Gate Bridge (while Maddin’s film focuses more on San Francisco as a whole; I should acknowledge here that there are a couple of shots in Golden Gate of the Bay Bridge, one from The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, USA, 1941), and one from On the Beach (Stanley Kramer, USA, 1959)). In this way, the film furthers existing video-essay work, especially through its comparative approach. Furthermore, Golden Gate makes a contribution to posthumanist discourse, not least by bringing to that discourse an audiovisual component.

There are various ways in which we might consider the Golden Gate Bridge in a posthumanist context. The first and most obvious is that in movies the bridge is regularly associated with the end of humanity (if not more strictly the end of western patriarchal masculinity). For, as can be seen in many of the films used here, the Golden Gate Bridge repeatedly suffers apocalyptic events in movies: nuclear bombs, attacks by monsters from the ancient past, including ‘atomic creatures’ Godzilla and the giant octopus from It Came from Beneath the Sea (Robert Gordon, USA, 1955), as well as post-ecological kaiju and mega sharks, earthquakes, sun blazes, meteors and more. Furthermore, the Golden Gate Bridge is also a place where congregate such posthuman entities as intelligent apes, intelligent octopuses, intelligent sharks, intelligent aliens, including Vulcans, intelligent cars, mutant humans (X-men), hulks, terminators, other intelligent machines and Supermen/Superman.

And yet, Golden Gate wishes to suggest that it is not simply by coincidence that it is at this location that such events and entities arise. For, the Golden Gate Bridge is also a space where the desert meets the sea, with the interaction of these two elements creating unpredictable weather conditions, including fog, that connote uncertainty and amorphousness. That is, the Golden Gate Bridge is a space for all manner of unusual becomings, or what Reza Negarestani terms ‘new sentiences’ (Negarestani 2008: 92).

Small wonder, then, that San Francisco lies just next to Silicon Valley, where in the desert the new sentience that is a silicon singularity is being beckoned into existence. Small wonder, too, that the Golden Gate Bridge marks the edge of the psychic space of the USA and perhaps of modernity itself: it is the limit of the west, and once that limit is reached… humans have few places left to go, except perhaps by evolving into new life forms, by being replaced by new life forms (or life forms that are at least new to us), by taking their own lives, or by disappearing in a flash of nuclear light.

Indeed, that flash of nuclear light heralds not just the end of man and the arrival of creatures from the deep, but perhaps also the very birth of cinema itself as a sentient being that is set to replace the human, be that as a machine apart from humans or as a cyborg symbiogenetically entangled with humans. Small wonder, again, that filmmakers like Chris Marker, Jenni Olson and Sophie Fiennes (who brings with her auti-philosopher Slavoj Žižek) all come to the Golden Gate to explore cinema’s own ability not just to touch humans, but also to think for and with itself.

In this sense, Golden Gate is not just a written work of film-philosophy, in which it is demonstrated through text how a film (or film as a whole) does philosophy, at the very least in the form of inspiring thought. Rather, Golden Gate seeks also to be a filmic work of film-philosophy, in the process spanning theory and practice.

In this way, Golden Gate draws upon early film theorist Vachel Lindsay, who in his poetry considered San Francisco to be something of a siren (a ‘sea-maid’ that can ‘inflame desire’; see Lindsay 1913), and who in his theory saw cinema as a prophecy machine, harking into existence new life forms, including cinema and the Golden Gate themselves (Lindsay 1915).

The life of cinema and the life of the Golden Gate Bridge can be seen in the behaviour that they induce; like a siren, they inspire love and death/suicide in equal measure. But beyond inspiring such sentiments and actions, their effect on humanity is also mental/psychological, heralding not just new life in the form of monsters, but also new human life in the form of cerebral structure.

One of the speakers from Eric Steel’s documentary about Golden Gate suicides, The Bridge (UK/USA, 2006), suggests that the schizophrenia suffered by one of the jumpers (Lisa Smith) meant that for them life was like having 44 television channels on simultaneously with all of them occupying equal attention. This recalls Steven Shaviro’s claim that ‘people along the autistic spectrum are not solipsists, and they are not lacking in empathy… Their vision… “makes everything it represents exist on a strictly ‘equal footing’… fully outside any ontological hierarchy”’ (Shaviro 2014: 132).

To see and to treat equally, to achieve ontological democracy and to remove hierarchies, to see matter as vibrant, or better for matter to assert itself as vibrant, results almost certainly in a becoming-autistic in the human. Perhaps Superman, who can see and hear everything equally, is thus autistic. Perhaps Spock, who considers all events in a detached and ‘logical’ fashion, is thus autistic. Perhaps Tommy Wiseau, whose cinematic work crumbles any understanding of formal hierarchies, is thus autistic. And perhaps it is no mistake that the autistic Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) comes to San Francisco in order to live. For Khan represents not just the ‘autistic’ future of a humanity that dissolves hierarchies, but also the way in which such a future will decentre the white male as a privileged focus of the modern world.

As vision becomes democratised across space, so does it become democratised across time, such that past and future become equal with the present, and such that fantasy and memory also become equal with actuality. Where truth and fiction become indiscernible, so are we in the realm of cinema, a form, a sentience and an intelligence where fiction and documentary blend, and where images of time, including hieroglyphic suggestions of our future, are made present. This is a reality that Golden Gate seeks to depict.

It is a reality defined by falling. For The Room (USA, 2003) has inspired a 44th film, namely The Disaster Artist (James Franco, USA, 2017), with Jennifer Fay reminding us at the outset of Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene that ‘disaster’ is derived from dis (bad) and astro (star) – being thus ‘the catastrophe that results from planetary misalignment’ (Fay 2018: 1). It is not just that the Golden Gate Bridge suffers disasters in the colloquial sense of the word, then, but that it also is a disastrous, artistic place where humans encounter the alien, or that which has fallen from the stars (in French, des astres, or désastres). Furthermore, it is perhaps also here that humans realise that they are themselves from the stars, in that all matter is in some senses cooled stardust, and all humans are thus fallen, with their state being always to fall.

Indeed, Steel has compared The Bridge to Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c1558), in which we see Icarus’s legs emerging from the sea after falling to earth (see Holden 2006). Not only does Bruegel’s painting signal 450 years ago a kind of ‘autistic’ approach to the world, in that Icarus is not centre-frame but rather an almost-hidden detail in a world that is otherwise full of bustle, but its inclusion in Golden Gate also attempts to signal the presence of the past and of different media in this (post-)cinematic present.

There are many falls beyond that of Icarus in Golden Gate, and these include the fall of the camera and the fall of the endless motorcade (from cadere, which means to fall in Latin) that crosses the bridge’s span. Golden Gate is not just a film about trying to defy gravity, then, but one in which gravity plays a key part in what it means to be human, and what lies in store for humanity. For, even if the film is also about the all-too-human and Icarus-like dream of flight, as Caroline Pressley says of bridge jumper Gene Sprague (who loosely resembles Tommy Wiseau, the disaster artist who, like Spock and Superman, is not of this world… as we know it), the film is also about how gravity will lead us all to our graves.

Part of man’s delusional (dreams of) flight is his flight into cinema – the flight of fantasy in which woman is not an intelligent being with whom he shares a world, but an image, a fantasy, from which he is separate, which is like a dumb machine, and which he can thus control as he wishes – as Scottie attempts to do with Judy by turning her into Madeleine, who herself was always only an image, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (USA, 1958). Scottie is fallen, but he refuses to believe this as he projects his fantasies of desire on to Madeleine, before then pro-jecting Judy towards Madeleine such that Judy must inevitably fall. As Scottie attempts to deny his fallen status and to fly – accepting not reality (Judy), but insisting on a controlled fantasy (Madeleine) – so does tragedy become inevitable, and in his delusion he must fall and make others (here, signally a woman) fall even further. As Friedrich Nietzsche is quoted as saying, ‘man is a bridge not a goal’ – a bridge to new life forms (Nietzsche 1997: 8). However, man is so destructive because he considers himself not to be a bridge, but precisely a goal (man in his vanity thinks himself the be-all and end-all).

If the rise of masculinity as the be-all and end-all involves the subjugation of others, though, the fall of masculinity, or the fall of the patriarchal world, is itself impossible. The white man headed west and invented cinema in order to try to establish control over the environment, over machines, over animals and over woman. But that control is impossible, including the control of cinema itself.

If cinema is part of man’s attempt to control woman, then perhaps this essay-film (and essay-films more generally?) are an example of non-cinema. Or if cinema really is a new sentience, or a new intelligence, then a non-patriarchal cinema, in which man has fallen, is really the birth of cinema proper, not the fall of man, but the rise of the machines.

In this way, Golden Gate forms part of my research into ‘non-cinemas’ from around the world (see Brown 2018), while also bridging the work between that study of global digital filmmaking and my forthcoming posthumanist work on cephalopods and cinema, namely The Squid Cinema from Hell: Kinoteuthis Infernalis and the Emergence of Chthulumedia (with David H Fleming, Edinburgh University Press, 2020).

Indeed, through the presence of various tentacled creatures in this film, Golden Gate functions as an audiovisual introduction to the themes of that book, while also being an example of ‘chthulumedia’ itself – that is, media that deal with a posthuman world, with the term being derived from the theories of feminist biologist Donna J Haraway (2016).

Golden Gate is a video-essay that may also qualify as an essay-film, along the lines of Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma or the afore-mentioned Green Fog by Guy Maddin (with Evan and Galen Johnson). Indeed, I would think of it more an essay-film than a video-essay, but that is perhaps a semantic issue. Nonetheless, the distinction might be useful to convey the more ‘poetic,’ ‘cinematic’ or ‘expressive’ mode that the film adopts, using intertitles, sound and image loops and montage in order to create its argument rather than relying on authorial voice over (not that this is de rigueur in video-essays, as Ian Garwood (2016) has discussed). In some senses, it may also overlap with aspects of video art (e.g. the work of Martin Arnold). If academics are allowed to compare themselves to bona fide ‘artists’ (from which academics typically are supposed to separate themselves).

Without wishing to sound too facetious, I would hope that viewers will rethink cinematic space and how it is used expressively in films, while also getting them to think about the specific icon that is the Golden Gate Bridge. This in turn might further their understanding of monuments in film, the meaning of the bridge specifically, as well as the role of the human in cinema and the world more generally. On a pragmatic note, I would hope that this work would inspire more video-essayists to aspire to a more interesting aesthetic than the voice over commentary that is most commonly adopted.

Golden Gate premiered at the Frozen International Film Festival in San Francisco in August 2019. It was not screened in competition and it has otherwise only enjoyed private screenings (at the 2019 Film-Philosophy Conference in Brighton, and as part of a class on Audiovisual Dissertations at the University of Roehampton, London, in September 2019).

As of yet, Golden Gate has not made any significant impact, although it perhaps did help to sell some tickets to the Roxie Theater, which is the cinema where it screened at the Frozen International Film Festival in San Francisco. I also sent the film to Guy Maddin’s agents, but I have heard nothing back from him. It is still early days in the life of this film so I hope it will gain some traction and further impact over time.

Additional Information
I would like to thank David H Fleming, Matthew Holtmeier, Murray Pomerance, Clive Smith, Chelsea Wessels and Mila Zuo for their help in the creation of this film. I would also like to thank my anonymous peer reviewers for their helpful suggestions and the editors of Screenworks for their patience in bringing this work to publication.

Bennett, Jane (2009) Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Brown, William (2018) Non-Cinema: Global Digital Filmmaking and the Multitude, London: Bloomsbury.

Brown, William, and David H. Fleming (2020) The Squid Cinema from Hell: Kinoteuthis Infernalis and the Emergence of Chthulumedia, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Garwood, Ian (2016) ‘The Place of Voiceover in Academic Audiovisual Film and Television Criticism,’ NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies, Autumn, Accessed 24 January 2020.

Fay, Jennifer (2018) Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haraway, Donna J. (2016) Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Holden, Stephen (2006) ‘That Beautiful But Deadly San Francisco Span,’ The New York Times, 27 October, Accessed 1 May 2019.

Lindsay, Vachel (1913) ‘The City that Will Not Repent,’ in General William Booth enters into heaven and other poems. Borgo Press.

Lindsay, Vachel (2000 [1915]) The Art of the Motion Picture. New York: Modern Library.

Negarestani, Reza (2008) Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials. Melbourne: re:press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (1997 [1891]) Thus Spake Zarathustra. Trans. Anthony Common. London: Wordsworth.

Shaviro, Steven (2014) The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Films featured in Golden Gate
10.5 (John Lafia, USA, 2004)
A View to a Kill (John Glen, UK, 1985)
The Abyss (James Cameron, USA, 1989)
Bicentennial Man (Chris Columbus, USA/Germany, 1999)
Big Hero 6 (Don Hall and Chris Williams, USA, 2014)
The Bridge (Eric Steel, UK/USA, 2006)
Bumblebee (Travis Knight, USA/China, 2018)
The Circle (James Ponsoldt, UAE/USA, 2017)
The Core (Jon Amiel, USA/Germany/Canada/UK, 2003)
Dark Passage (Delmer Daves, USA, 1947)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves, USA/UK/Canada, 2014)
Escape in the Fog (Budd Boetticher, USA, 1945)
Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, USA/Japan, 2014)
Happy Ending (Krishna D.K. and Raj Nidimoru, India, 2014)
Herbie Rides Again (Robert Stevenson, USA, 1974)
How the West Was Won (John Ford, Henry Hathaway and George Marshall, USA, 1962)
Hulk (Ang Lee, USA, 2003)
It Came from Beneath the Sea (Robert Gordon, USA, 1955)
Land of the Lost (Brad Silberling, USA, 2009)
The Love Bug (Robert Stevenson, USA, 1968)
The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, USA, 1941)
The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough (Peter Rose, USA, 1981)
Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (Ace Hannah, USA, 2009)
Meteor Storm (Tibor Takács, USA, 2010)
Monsters vs. Aliens (Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon, USA, 2009)
My Name is Khan (Karan Johar, India/USA/UAE, 2010)
On the Beach (Stanley Kramer, USA, 1959)
Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro, USA, 2013)
The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (Sophie Fiennes, UK/Austria/Netherlands, 2006)
The Rock (Michael Bay, USA, 1996)
The Room (Tommy Wiseau, USA, 2003)
The Royal Road (Jenni Olson, USA, 2015)
San Andreas (Brad Peyton, USA, 2015)
Sans soleil (Chris. Marker, France, 1983)
Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, USA/Germany, 2009)
Star Trek Into Darkness (J.J. Abrams, USA, 2013)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Leonard Nimoy, USA, 1986)
Superman (Richard Donner, USA/UK/Switzerland/Canada/Panama, 1978)
Teknolust (Lynn Hershman-Leeson, USA/Germany/UK, 2002)
Terminator Genisys (Alan Taylor, USA, 2015)
The Towering Inferno (John Guillermin, USA, 1974)
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1958)
X-Men: The Last Stand (Brett Ratner, Canada/USA/UK, 2006)

Texts referenced in Golden Gate
Berger, Arthur Asa (2012) Understanding American Icons: An Introduction to Semiotics. Abingdon: Routledge.

Fleming, David H. (2017) Unbecoming Cinema: Unsettling Encounters with Ethical Event Films,. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Irigaray, Luce (1991) Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche. Trans. Gillian Gill. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lindsay, Vachel (1913) ‘The City that Will Not Repent,’ in General William Booth enters into heaven and other poems. Borgo Press.

Lindsay, Vachel (2000 [1915]) The Art of the Motion Picture. New York: Modern Library.

Negarestani, Reza (2008) Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials. Melbourne: re:press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (1997 [1891]) Thus Spake Zarathustra. Trans. Anthony Common. London: Wordsworth.

Shaviro, Steven (2014) The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Wark, McKenzie (2016) Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene. London: Verso.

Painting featured in Golden Gate
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c1558) Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.

Peer Reviews

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows:

Review 1: Accept work subject to minor revisions of statement.
I live here in San Francisco. I go for romantic walks in the shadow of the Bridge. I take my kids to Crissy Field with the Bridge always present in the background. There is a mysterious pull about it—the Golden Gate Bridge. But why?

It is clear that the Bridge is associated with death. Suspended so perilously above the gaping mouth of the San Francisco Bay. One cannot cross it without thinking, “What if …” And if anyone knows anything about the Golden Gate Bridge—most locals certainly know it—the Bridge is a destination spot—the last destination for those with suicidal ideation.

In talking about the 9/11 attacks Jean Baudrillard—ever the provocateur—commented that: “At a pinch, we can say that they did it, but we wished for it” (2003: 5-6). He goes on later to add, “The countless disaster movies bear witness to this fantasy, which they clearly attempt to exorcize with images, drowning out the whole thing with special effects. But the universal attraction they exert, which is on par with pornography, shows that acting-out is never very far away, the impulse to reject any system growing all the stronger as it approaches perfection or omnipotence” (Baudrillard 2003: 7). The cinematic disasters visited on, or upon the Golden Gate Bridge are rehearsals for the real deal—be it natural, supernatural, or by human stupidity. (There was already a dress rehearsal in 1989 when part of the Bay Bridge collapsed—the upper east bound deck of the bridge collapsed onto the west bound lower deck.)

The abundance of disasters accumulated here in Golden Gate leave you with your stomach in your mouth. Like that momentary weightlessness with the initial drop of a roller coaster, or an elevator that drops faster than would be normally comfortable. With each disaster, we wait for that uneasy vicarious experience of falling. One clip in fact depicts cars momentarily hovering at the very moment that the pavement plummets. Again, and again (even though we “have seen this movie before”) the sense of falling is visited upon our bodies. Although Superman does save the day (once), we are not spared. And indeed, some of the most spectacular, the most harrowing events are not CGI spectacles, but real-life scenes of death. Taken from Eric Steel’s 2006 documentary The Bridge, Steel’s ostensible project was to capture the day-in-the-life of the Bridge, but with the (real) intention of capturing jumpers. Which, set in contrast with Kim Novak’s (staged studio) plunge into the Bay from the edge of Fort Point parking lot, feel anemic. Nonetheless, the association with death, with suicide, and cataclysmic destruction resonates with this engineering marvel. And perhaps it is in this awe-inspiring monument to human prowess, which appears to stand in defiance of Nature’s will that invites such morbid ruminations.

Baudrillard, J. (2003) The Spirit of Terrorism and Other Essays. trans. Chris Turner. New York: Verso.

Review 2: Accept work subject to minor revisions of statement.
In this 24-minute-long video essay, William Brown harvests an archive of forty-three films dating from 1941 to 2018 to explore the representation of the Golden Gate bridge in cinema. Specifically, the author advances that due to its location at the Western border of the Western world and in the vicinity of the Sillicon Valley, the Golden Gate bridge has become a privileged locus for the staging of the encounter between the white man and his various « others » (women, foreigners, robots, aliens and other « monsters »), therefore performing as a visual signifier of the finitude of « patriarchal capitalism ». Refusing to resort to an explanatory voice over, the author defends this hypothesis through a creative weaving of chosen visual and audio clips, interspersed with evocative quotes by writers such as Vachel Lindsay, Luce Irigaray or Reza Negarestani.

Twining together scenes in which the Golden Gate Bridge is the set or the target of violent attacks by natural and supranatural entities, the first half of the video elaborates an impressive visual glossary of collapse and destruction. The second half, much quieter in its imagery and pacing, turns the canonical scene from Vertigo into the centre of a web of scenes (notably from Eric Steel’s 2016 documentary The Bridge) showing human and non-human characters choosing the Golden Gate Bridge as a location to take their own lives. Skilfully crafted, this evocative video essay is at its best when audio clips are discorrelated from their original visuals and looped so as to create heady echoes and resonances between unrelated scenes. As a whole, the piece succeeds in revealing intriguing patterns and creating an alternative narration from the scenes it appropriates, while making a compelling and provocative, albeit implicit argument about role of the Golden Gate Bridge in the cinematic history of the United States.

The video essay has been sent to me with an accompanying statement in two parts, with much of the writing included in the ‘additional information’ section. Though I find that the first half of the statement which complies with Screenworks‘ structural requirements gives a more accessible and articulate account of Brown’s intentions and research process, I regret that many aspects in the ‘additional information’ section have not been implemented into this first half. I would especially recommend including in the final text the justification for the resort to Vachel Lindsay’s writings in the opening sequence of the video; for the inclusion of the Landscape with the Fall of Icarus in relation to Eric Steel’s film; and perhaps also, a few more words to unpack exactly what the film says about autism, and its relation to what the author calls « ontological democracy ». I would also be interested in seeing the author elaborates further on the notion of « speculative realism » which is only briefly alluded to in the current version of the statement – though I understand that this might not be as crucial as other things to the understanding of the video piece.

Finally, I don’t recognize the necessity for the author to attack with such vehemence what he calls “creatively moribund” video essays employing “banal voice over”. Admittedly, the form of the video essay has recently gained momentum on platforms such as YouTube and most popular channels tend to use voice overs; but it is my understanding that a number of the video essayists working in an academic context actually reject vocal narration (as discussed by Ian Garwood in his contribution to the Autumn 2016 issue of NECSUS European Journal of Media Studies). Videographic research pioneers such as Catherine Grant, Christian Keathley, Jason Mittell or Adrian Martin are among the many authors who have written about the affordances and epistemological value of non-narrated and « poetic » video essays; referring to these writings could perhaps help Brown better locate his own position in the current field of videographic research, and articulate more precisely the originality of his essay.

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response.

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