Review: Man walks New York step by step, borough by borough in the uplifting documentary ‘The World Before Your Feet’
New York has justifiably held a long-standing reputation as one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities. It also packs a surprising amount of geographical diversity into its compact 302.6 square miles, as discovered by blogger Matt Green in Jeremy Workman’s enlightening, life-affirming documentary, “The World Before Your Feet.”
One could always get a sense of that collective breadth and scope by taking a highly recommended two-hour Circle Line cruise around the island’s five boroughs, but 37-year-old Green truly goes the distance — walking his way through 6,000 miles of streets in addition to the various parks, bridges and cemeteries he encounters along the way.
Setting off each day on a different route that might take him to the dense forests of Staten Island, the barbershop-lined streets of the Bronx, or an eerie, desolate Coney Island in the dead of winter, this genial, Anthony Bourdain of pedestrians makes for a fervent tour guide.
To pursue his six-years-and-counting project, Green quit his job as a civil engineer and gave up his apartment, finding temporary room and board across the city as an in-demand cat-sitter while allocating $15 a day for transit fares and homemade meals consisting mainly of rice and beans.
Unsurprisingly, as revealed by former girlfriends, including an ex-fiancée who had already mailed out wedding invitations, his extreme wanderlust has taken a toll on personal relationships.
But Green, who supplements his expeditions with a painstakingly researched, if not heavily followed blog, isn’t the only one to cover a lot of ground.
Filmmaker Workman, who’s behind him every step of the way without ever getting in the way, allows the city and its colorful denizens to take center stage.
Although not all of them welcome this affable, photo-snapping transient with open arms, his encounters with distrust pale in comparison to those experienced by fellow neighborhood hiker, Jamaican-born Garnette Cadogan, author of the essay “Walking While Black,” who details the fashion choices he must make in order to not appear threatening or suspicious.
Forgoing a conventional linear approach to charting Green’s trek, Workman, whose documentarian father, Chuck, is responsible for creating many of those cleverly assembled Oscar clip montages, takes some revealing detours, including a trip back to Green’s family home in Virginia that offers potential insights into what makes Matt run.
He also includes a number of intriguing sidebars featuring photo montages of the city’s “churchagogues” (old synagogues now occupied by churches as Jewish neighborhoods have shifted), “haircutterz” signs in the Bronx and, most movingly, the 9/11 memorials that continue to pop up in various forms across all five boroughs.
None proves more poignant than Tribute in Light, an annual commemoration taking the form of two vertical xenon towers beaming heavenward from near the original site of the World Trade Center.
As beautiful as it is haunting, the image evocatively sums up the human spirit and indomitable resilience that Green and Workman seem to encounter around every city block.
“London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful,” observed famed Manhattanite Dorothy Parker some 90 years ago. “Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it.”
Fortunately for us, Matt Green and his seemingly tireless feet are in no particular rush.
‘The World Before Your Feet’
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 23, Landmark Nuart Theatre, West Los Angeles
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