Life Lessons: Learning the Basics on Brooklyn Bridge (1982)

  • Gary R. Edgerton


Ken Burns took a giant leap of faith when he fell in love with the idea of adapting The Great Bridge into an hour-long nonfiction film. Historical documentaries were neither all that popular with audiences nor the style of choice for most filmmakers during much of the 1970s. The documentary world was still engaged in the waning days of direct cinema and cinema verité as the preferred approaches for most nonfiction veterans. Creating a history of the Brooklyn Bridge on film, no matter how beautiful and culturally significant the structure remained 105 years after its completion, hardly seemed like the kind of breakout project that would ultimately launch a newly established independent production company. No wonder, then, that Burns was greeted with incredulous looks when he left his sickbed and came into the living room of the apartment he was sharing with friends and excitedly announced his plans for Brooklyn Bridge. Buddy Squires remembers, in hindsight, “we told himtogobacktosleep.”2 Apparently the other members of Florentine Films would need some convincing before the idea finally gained a working consensus among them.


Motion Picture National Endowment Film Festival Public Television Historical Documentary 
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  1. 3.
    Robert K. Burns, Jr., “Saint Véran,” National Geographic 115.4 (1959), 573.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Donald D. Jackson, “Ken Burns Puts His Special Spin on the Old Ball Game,” Smithsonian 25.4 (1994), 40.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    Carroll T. Hartwell, foreword, in The People, Yes, photographs and notes by Jerome Liebling (New York: Aperture, 1995), 4.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    See also Jerome Liebling, Jerome Liebling Photographs with essays by Anne Halley and Alan Trachtenberg (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1982).Google Scholar
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    Tim Clark, “The Man Who Had to Kill Abraham Lincoln,” Yankee 54 (October 1990), 78.Google Scholar
  6. 35.
    See Hart Crane, The Bridge (New York: Liveright, 1992). This book of poems, originally published in 1930, portrays the Brooklyn Bridge as a mystical unifying symbol for America. Lewis had previously edited The Letters of Hart Crane and His Family (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974).Google Scholar
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    See Alan Trachtenberg, Brooklyn Bridge: Factand Symbol, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979).Google Scholar
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    David McCullough, The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (New York: Touchstone, 1972).Google Scholar
  9. 44.
    David McCullough, The Johnstown Flood: The Incredible Story Behind One of the Most Devastating “Natural” Disasters America Has Ever Known (reprint, New York: Touchstone, 1987).Google Scholar

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© Gary. R. Edgerton 2001

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  • Gary R. Edgerton

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