Matt Green is a cat sitter. Well, actually, he moonlights as that as a favour to some of the people he stays with temporarily. His main thing, I don’t know if I can call it a job or not, is a blogger where he writes about walking every street in New York City. All 8000 miles of it. Matt Green is always on the move.
This is a constant state that Jeremy Workman’s documentary The World Before Your Feet captures. The plan is seemingly to walk every street at least once. It’s a fun mission where he gets to meet New Yorkers and walk the way they walk. Although yes, at one point he borrows someone else’s scooter for a block. He also rides a bike that he finds at a park but only once.
New York, as it turns out, has a lot of nature, seemingly untouched by the hands of a continent that literally turns every forest into a city block. It’s one of the documentary’s delightful surprises, the nature itself bring part of the city’s story. It’s a documentary so erudite that it doesn’t surprise me that Jesse Eisenberg serves as an executive producer.
The documentary also has its essential scenes where it takes a break from depicting one of Green’s walks to show a model of New York. Even its untouched natural areas have a name. And displaying these names both show the city’s history as well as how unconquerable the city is by foot. He tries to conquer the city this way, refreshing for viewers – me – who change paths once a year.
One of the other ways that The World gives its viewers breathing room is to show more of Green’s life. There’s more to him than his mission and New York. There’s a scene here where he goes back to his home town of Ashland, Virginia. There, he talks about seeing himself as a small town boy before moving to the big city.
But thankfully, the documentary takes its viewers back on track, with Green as our tour guide, showing us that New York’s culture doesn’t just manifest through its people. In fact, it shows itself through how city planners built the city over the centuries. Manhattan’s Dutch origins shows up, as he point out, through the city’s layout.
That culture and diversity manifests within every stone, within every object that people leave behind. Green even takes his viewers through New York’s cemeteries. There we see the Hamsa hands in Jewish headstones, or the statues commemorating the pioneers of the major wars that America fought. Which isn’t to say that the film is sentimental, there’s moments of mundanity here that surprisingly make the beautiful moments count.
America fights different kinds of wars, sometimes within itself. Sometimes those conflicts feel less than skirmishes, but all of them, again, leave their traces in every façade, even ones we don’t notice. At least in New York, Green points them out to whoever’s there to listen, motivating us to show that walking is the better way. Time for me to take a walk.
The World Before Your Feet comes soon on OVID.