Doc about iconic photo offers food for thought.
MEN AT LUNCH (Seán Ó Cualáin). 70 minutes. Opens Friday (April 12) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. See listings. Rating: NNN
"A picture," the saying goes, "is worth a thousand words." But Men At Lunch gets a whole lot more mileage than that out of just one image.
Seán Ó Cualáin's documentary takes a fascinating multiple-angle look at the iconic photograph Lunch Atop A Skyscraper, in which ironworkers chow down while casually perched on a beam 800 feet above Manhattan. The men in the photo, working on what we now call 30 Rock, and the daredevil photographer remain anonymous, though that doesn't prevent people all over the world from claiming direct descent from them.
Ó Cualáin digs for clues to the men's identity, interviewing archivists and investigating leads to turn up descendants who see a family resemblance in their faces. The tricky thing is that so many New Yorkers identify with these immigrant workers who risked their lives to establish themselves in their new home.
As Ó Cualáin talks to locals about what the death-defying photo means to them, the film's focus changes from the building of skyscrapers to the construction of the Big Apple's identity.
He lays it on thick at times, especially in his attempt to bring 9/11 into the picture. That earnest search for modern relevance almost undoes his earlier point that this timeless photo needs no help in that department.