Song Bridges Part 3 — Film

The past two posts, “Song Bridges” and “Song Bridges Part 2 — Middle Eights,” have explored a songwriting move called a bridge.

To review:

  • A bridge comes after the halfway point in the song, so that the main ideas can be established.
  • It strikes a musical and lyrical contrast with what has come before it.  It challenges or tests the song’s established ideas.
  • As a result of these shifts, the song’s meaning expands.

It’s interesting to notice how this same type of move is made in other creative forms.  I first noticed this as I was writing my memoir.  As I was editing it, I came to a point well past the halfway point and thought, “It really needs a bridge here.”  So I added a bridge, a short one in terms of its proportion to the rest of the book, but its placement and contrast with what came before and after it qualified it as a bridge.

Since then, I’ve spotted this same move in other works.  Today, I’d like to point out some examples in film.  Tomorrow, I’ll mention some examples from literature.

Film Bridges Example 1 — The Matrix

The awesome Gloria Foster as the Oracle, via

The awesome Gloria Foster as the Oracle, via

The scene where Neo (Keanu Reeves) encounters the Oracle (Gloria Foster) functions as a sort of bridge.

  • It happens after the halfway point, so the main idea — Neo is The One — has been established.
  • This scene throws doubt on that main idea.

Oracle: But... you already know what I'm going to tell you.
Neo: I'm not The One.
Oracle: Sorry, kid. You got the gift, but it looks like you're waiting for something.
Neo: What?
Oracle: Your next life, maybe. Who knows? That's the way these things go.

  • This challenge to the main idea is highlighted by formal contrasts (analogous to the musical changes that accompany the lyrical reconsiderations found song bridges).  Rather than fast-paced scenes of acrobatic street battles (or simulated battles) between youngish characters, we now enter a slow-moving domestic scene, where young children wait to visit with an old wise woman, who sips coffee in her kitchen.

Coming out of this scene, the dimensions and scope of the movie have expanded.  Indeed, without this scene, Neo’s subsequent discoveries about himself would feel empty.

Film Bridges, Example 2, The Godfather

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone via

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone via

Michael Coreleone’s sojourn in Sicily functions as something of a bridge.

  • It occurs just past the halfway mark of the film; the main ideas have had time to establish themselves.
  • The bridge challenges some of those ideas. 

Up to this point, Michael has played the part of a kid brother whose reputation as someone uninvolved in the mob world was the very thing that enabled him to carry out the surprise assassination of a rival mob boss and a policeman.  He carries out the assassination nervously, and his family has taken every precaution to compensate for his inexperience.  Now in Sicily, we see him carry himself as an alpha-dog.

Whereas in the earlier scenes, Michael appears to be trapped by his family’s history, the sequence in Sicily breathes with a sense of his freedom to shape his future, including choosing a new partner, Appolonia instead of Kay.

Up until this point, Michael has distinguished himself by acting rationally.  The descriptions of the mob world he gives to Kay during the wedding sequence, the assassination plot he cooks up based on his appreciation of his perceived weaknesses—these reveal someone who is able to set aside or, if necessary, overcome emotion.  In Sicily, however, he is thunderstruck by the sight of Appolonia.  The passionate Michael, the one capable of falling madly in love, comes to life.

  • These contrasts with the main ideas are highlighted by formal contrasts, a dramatic switch of locale and atmosphere — from urban scenes of the new world, metropolitan New York City, to pastoral scenes of the old world, rural Sicily.

As a result of these contrasts and the death of Appolonia and his baby, when Michael returns to New York, his cold and calculated side reemerges with greater force behind it.  The dimensions of his character, and thus the film, have expanded because of the bridge.

Among other things, these examples suggest that filmmakers rely on intuitions that are deeply musical.

Thank you for reading.  In the next post, I’ll mention a couple of examples of bridges in literature.