Friday, November 23, 2018

Walking/discovering New York City in Jeremy Workman's THE WORLD BEFORE YOUR FEET

The very interesting documentary filmmaker, Jeremy Workman, who back in 2014 brought us that year's finest doc (of those TrustMovies managed to see, at least) -- Magical Universe -- has a new one that just opened in New York City and Los Angeles. It's titled THE WORLD BEFORE YOUR FEET and, so far as subject matter is concerned, proves highly reminiscent of Workman's contribution to another documentary, True New York, he produced two years ago. That would be the episode entitled One Track Mind, all about a fellow who has devoted his entire free time over the past 30 years to cataloging and archiving information on every last station in the New York City subway system.

Mr. Workman's new film tracks another, younger fellow, Matt Green (shown above, left, with the filmmaker), who has spent all of the past seven years walking the maybe 8,000 miles of roads and paths that make up New York City's five boroughs. Green gave up employment as a civil engineer (what most of us would call a very good job, particularly in these terrible times) to pursue his unusual dream. Why? Even he doesn't quite know. "People tell me I could be doing something more useful with my life," he explains "They ask me what is the point of it all. I'm kind of learning that as I go along."

And so do we. One of Workman's great gifts is to take us inside the folk he films, well enough and far enough so that we really do understand how they think and feel. We begin to experience life through their eyes. And Mr. Green's new lifestyle is a fascinating one: He tells us he is able to live on $15 per day. Homeless now, he depends on the kindness of former friends but mostly on that of the strangers he meets who often invite him in for a meal, a shower, even a place to sleep. He also cat-sits (and sometime dog-sits) as a means of providing himself shelter. The guy is a charmer, all right, pleasant looking, intelligent and affable. And his "trek" really does seem to interest many of the New Yorkers he meets.

Along the way, Workman lets us meet and hear from other New York "walkers": a sociology professor, a real estate agent and a writer, the latter of whom also happens to be black and explains to Green and to us some of the differences in dress, attitude and actions that he must employ, due to, yes, the race card. The filmmaker also allows us to meet two of Green's former girlfriends, one of whom he very nearly married. His obsessions (I would call them that) and lack of interest in more "normal" patterns of behavior and relaxation (he has zero interest in ever going out to a movie) seem to have rendered any long-term love relationship impossible.
For now at least.

We visit Green's home town of Ashland,Virginia (blink and you'll miss what's playing at the local movie house: a screening of Workman's Magical Universe) and meet his parents who, as you might imagine, kind of wish that their son had some real employment again (he has never asked them for money, they tell us). We see snippets of his earlier across-the-USA walk, during which he stopped at the home of his brother in Chicago, and we learn of past trauma that happened to both siblings that might help account for Matt's more-or-less uber-carpe diem philosophy.

Lasting only 95 minutes, the documentary is still surprisingly rich in the ways it brings us into Matt's world and viewpoint: the objects he sees, the people he meets, the history he discovers and especially all he notices and begins putting together and writing about via his blog -- the many "churchagogues" (ex-synagogues that have become other-denominational), all the hair-cutting establishments that have replaced the letter's "c" and "s" with those of "k" and "z" (note especially his honorable mention that caps all those kutzes), the "puddle that never goes away" (in Staten Island, I think), the ingenious vegetable gardens of Queens, real redwood trees in New York City, 9/11 memorials, cemeteries, and the oldest tree in all of NYC (along with a notebook left in its hollow by a class of kids who visited it once upon a time), and a young woman who, thanks to Matt, here tastes her first fig! This is New York City like you have never experienced it.

There is also some lovely and stirring music, thanks mostly to Carly Comando and Tom Rosenthal (among other contributors). Mostly though, this is Green's and Workman's baby (the latter produced, directed, filmed and edited it). And it is very much worth seeing. From Greenwich Entertainment, The World Before Your Feet opened in New York City at the Quad Cinema this past Wednesday, and will hit Los Angeles at the Landmark NuArt today, Friday, November 23. It will also play Washington DC at the Avalon Cinema on Thursday December 13. Elsewhere? Sure hope so. I'll add playdates, cities and theaters here, as I learn of them.

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