Review: Men at Lunch
A documentary taking a look at one of the most iconic photograph of the 20th century, a black and white picture of 11 construction workers sitting atop a steel beam 57 stories above New York City, eating lunch.
Who’s in It?
New York City historians, authors, filmmakers, and residents recount what they know and how they feel about the scene. Directed by Seán Ó Cualáin, out of Ireland.
The photo itself is outrageous, powerful, unnerving, and unbelievable. As these 11 men sit so comfortably, so nonchalantly across the a beam, without harness, some 850 feet above street level NYC, gazing upon it instantly fills you with equal parts dread and fascination.
It is a truly powerful portrait, but a 70-minute documentary about it doesn’t quite hold up as much. There is, after all, only so many times the film can go back to the same picture. It expands from this point, yes, taking a look at similarly powerful photographs of men at work high above the city, and employing a fair share of black and white archival footage to place you back in the time. When it tries to recreate the sky high scene using video, though, you’re taken out of the moment.
The symbolic print unravels a story about immigration and working class life, but the film early on makes two very interesting points that unfortunately subvert its story. One gentleman remarks that questions we ask after a prolonged look at the picture, such as “who are they?” will never be answered. Another man comments that part of the power and popularity of the picture is due to its simple universality, and that it requires no meaning, no explanation, and no investigation.
It is a fascinating piece of art, and the history behind it is just as interesting as what it means to so many New Yorkers. Much of this though is handled quickly and adequately, but the film loses steam as the same points are repeated. The best parts are simply the most outlandish ones –photographs, and even some video of construction workers and ardent photographs standing far above a sprawling New York City.
Should You See It?
Eventually, but with so many exciting documentaries coming out soon, this one can wait.
If it looks like the works are not safe, it’s because they’re not. Roughly 40 died a year working on buildings, which led to the constructions workers motto: “We do not die, we are killed.”