WordPress began a new feature for March, a “Blog Prompt of the Month”, and I’ve decided to give it a whirl. This month’s word is “bridge” and while that doesn’t immediately bring to mind pop culture, it didn’t take very long for my gears to start turning.
- The Bridge on the River Kwai
I’m going to admit right up front that I’ve never actually seen The Bridge on the River Kwai. But, like many people, I can instantly recognize the iconic song the POWs whistle in the film. The tune, titled “Colonel Bogey March”, was originally composed in 1914 by British Army bandleader F.J. Ricketts. The march was popularized during World War II when a song called “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball” was set to its tune. A sample lyric:
“Hitler has only got one ball,
The other is in the Albert Hall.
His mother, the dirty bugger,
Cut it off when he was small.”
For his Oscar-winning River Kwai score, composer Malcolm Arnold wrote a counter-march called “River Kwai March”, but it’s “Colonel Bogey March” that everyone remembers. By the way, The Bridge on the River Kwai was the highest-grossing film of 1957 and went on to win seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Alec Guinness.
- “Bridge over Troubled Water”
Simon and Garfunkel’s masterpiece, from their 1970 album of the same name, came to Paul Simon so quickly that he later asked himself, “Where did that come from? It doesn’t seem like me.” Simon was partially inspired by the sacred hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”, which was famously adapted by J.S. Bach for movement 54 of his St Matthew Passion. Listen here for comparison:
In 1970, the vast majority of pop songs still clocked in at three minutes or less, but despite its five-minute run time, “Bridge over Troubled Water” spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. At the 13th Grammy Awards, the song won Record of the Year and Song of the Year. “Bridge over Troubled Water” is not only one of Simon and Garfunkel’s most enduring songs, it is simply one of the greatest songs ever written. Fun fact: one of the issues that led to the duo’s breakup was Simon’s disgruntlement at having allowed Art Garfunkel to sing the lead vocal on “Bridge over Troubled Water”.
- Bridge to Terabithia
Katherine Paterson’s Newbery Medal-winning novel was inspired by her son David and his childhood friend Lisa, who died at the age of eight after being struck by lightning. The coming-of-age tale is about the friendship between former running rivals Jess and Leslie, who create an imaginary kingdom called Terabithia, the “bridge” to which is a rope swing that takes them across a creek. While Jess is away on a school trip, Leslie attempts to go to Terabithia on her own, and tragedy strikes. Bridge to Terabithia is frequently banned or challenged, for offensive language, Jess’s use of the word “lord” outside of prayer, the death plotline itself, and allegations that it promotes occultism or satanism (insert eyerolls here). Bridge to Teribithia introduces young readers to the concepts of death and grief in a thoughtful, sensitive way. I haven’t seen the 2007 film adaptation; though it looks charming enough, too many of my childhood favorites have been made into terrible movies.
- “Under the Bridge”
“Under the Bridge” started life as a poem written by Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis. Blood Sugar Sex Magik producer Rick Rubin found the poem in Kiedis’s notebook and insisted the Peppers record it. Kiedis was concerned that the subject matter – addiction and loneliness – didn’t quite fit with the band’s usual style, but he needn’t have worried: “Under the Bridge” became the Peppers’ biggest hit, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the Gus Van Sant-directed video won the group two MTV Video Music Awards.
- A View from the Bridge
Arthur Miller’s interest in writing about dockworkers’ union corruption was sparked by the real-life story of Pete Panto, a longshoreman and anti-union activist who was murdered in 1939. In 1947, Miller collaborated on an unproduced screenplay with Elia Kazan, who eventually told a very similar story with his Oscar-winning On the Waterfront. Miller himself revisited the topic in his 1956 tragedy A View from the Bridge. Over the years, several successful revivals have been staged in both the US and London. Four actors have been nominated for the Best Actor Tony for portraying the play’s doomed protagonist Eddie: Tony Lo Bianco, Anthony LaPaglia, Liev Schrieber and Mark Strong. Only LaPaglia won, and his is the version of the play I’d most want to see: LaPaglia’s co-star was the extraordinary Allison Janney, who was two years away from becoming a household name.
By the way, reading about Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan led me down the rabbit hole of the House Un-American Activities Committee’s witchhunt into Hollywood’s supposed Communist sympathies. Kazan famously named names to the committee, something the film industry never let him live down (see the picture below, which was part of the chilly reception Kazan received at the 71st Academy Awards, where Kazan received a Lifetime Achievement Award). Miller was subpeonaed but refused to name names, and was held in contempt of Congress as a result.
- My Fair Lady
The title of Lerner and Loewe’s musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is derived from the nursery rhyme “London Bridge Is Falling Down”. The bridge connection may be tenuous, but who needs an excuse to watch this enchanting 1964 film? Not me; I am unabashedly a fan of big-budget musicals, and My Fair Lady is one of the best. My Fair Lady was the second-biggest grossing film of 1964, behind Mary Poppins (more on that in a bit). My Fair Lady received twelve nominations at the 37th Academy Awards; it won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for George Cukor, Best Actor for Rex Harrison and Best Costume Design (more on that in a bit, too).
Fun fact: Julie Andrews, who portrayed Eliza Dolittle on Broadway, auditioned for My Fair Lady. In fact, Andrews was lyricist Jay Lerner’s top choice for the part. Jack Warner, whose Warner Brothers studio was putting up a then-record $17 million for My Fair Lady, wanted a name that movie-goers would know, so Audrey Hepburn ended up with the role. That left Julie Andrews free to play the starring role in Mary Poppins, her film debut. Andrews ended up winning the Best Actress Oscar that year; Hepburn, whose singing in My Fair Lady was dubbed by Marni Nixon, wasn’t even nominated.
Now, about those My Fair Lady costumes:
- Jeff Bridges
No list of pop culture bridges would be complete without Jeff Bridges. Bridges was born into a show business family and made his film debut in The Company She Keeps at the age of one. He became a star – and an Oscar nominee – at the age of just twenty-two, when he co-starred in The Last Picture Show. Over the years, Bridges has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, taking home the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Otis “Bad” Blake in 2009’s Crazy Heart. In addition to acting, Bridges is a musician, writer, photographer, philanthropist and, most recently, cancer survivor.
- “The Crunge”
“Ah, excuse me
Oh, will ya excuse me
I’m just trying to find the bridge
Has anybody seen the bridge?
Have you seen the bridge?
I ain’t seen the bridge!
Where’s that confounded bridge?”
The Golden Gate Bridge is featured in dozens of films and television series: Full House, Interview with the Vampire, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Futurama. Often, the bridge is being destroyed (Superman, The Core, San Andreas and Monsters vs. Aliens, to name just a few). My personal favorite depiction of the Golden Gate is in Vertigo. Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece of psychological obsession was criminally underrated at the time of its release; it bombed at the box office, and at the 31st Academy Awards, Vertigo received zero nominations, not even for Bernard Herrmann’s iconic score. Over time, appreciation for Vertigo grew, and it is now appropriately ranked as one of the greatest films ever made.
Fun fact: Vertigo was the first film to use a dolly zoom, an effect that relies on perspective distortion to convey Scottie’s vertigo. It’s a technique that’s subsequently been used by directors like Steven Spielberg (Jaws), Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas) and Sam Raimi (The Quick and the Dead).
- Graffiti Bridge
Prince’s 1990 album is the soundtrack to the film of the same name, which was a standalone sequel to Purple Rain. Unlike its predecessor, the movie bombed, effectively ending Prince’s film career. But Graffiti Bridge, the album, is a delight. The album was the first to feature The New Power Generation, which would be Prince’s backing band for the next several years. Graffiti Bridge also includes collaborations with George Clinton (“We Can Funk”) and Tevin Campbell (“Round and Round”). The album’s standouts are the top-ten hit “Thieves in the Temple” and the bluesy slow jam “The Question of U”.
- A Little Romance
Venice’s legendary Bridge of Sighs factors into the story of our young lovers, Lauren (Diane Lane) and Daniel (Thelonious Bernard), who fall in love in Paris and sneak away to Venice to seal their love with a kiss in a gondola under the bridge. This charming 1979 film, directed by George Roy Hill (The Sting), won French composer Georges Delerue the Academy Award for Best Original Score (the film was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay). Lane and Bernard, both making their screen debuts, are darling, and Laurence Olivier is wonderful as the kids’ matchmaker/chaperone.