Men at Lunch
Lightweight documentary about the iconic New York photograph, Lunch Atop a Skyscraper
The photograph of 11 construction workers grabbing a bite to eat on a girder 800 feet above street level is one of the most iconic images of the 20th century, capturing the spirit of the American Dream and fuelling the mythic ideal of New York as the city where anything can happen. A picture may indeed be worth 1000 words, but whether or not it can support an 80 minute documentary is debatable, especially based on the evidence of Seán Ó Cualáin’s overly gushy effort.
A selection of talking heads – photographers, historians, archivists – offer some interesting insights into the culture and background of the image, exploring related topics like the immigrant experience in 1920s New York. These interviews always veer towards the nostalgic, however – one historian only briefly manages to allude to the slums of Queens and The Bronx before being cut off in favour of more soft-soap narration from Fionnula Flanagan. The reason for the preponderance of Irish personnel (and funding) becomes clear in the third act, when two of the erstwhile anonymous ironworkers are identified as immigrants from the Galway village of Shanaglish – cue much outpouring of ‘We’re proud of our boys’ sentimental slush.
It’s not all bad – an assortment of vox pops from modern day ironworkers gives the project a more down-to-earth tone, and there’s no doubt much to love if you’re a dedicated New Yorkophile – but by the time an extremely misjudged 9/11 montage swings into view, you’ll be wishing they’d just let the photograph speak for itself.
Men at Lunch is screening at the GFT, Glasgow, Wed 20 & Fri 22 Feb, as part of the Glasgow Film Festival.