The documentary The World Before Your Feet explores an age-old platitude that’s thrown around about countless movies, “New York is like a character.” Often said about swoony romantic comedies, Woody Allen films or those of Martin Scorsese and Sidney Lumet, it might be trite, but it’s never been truer than in Jeremy Workman’s film.
The subject of The World Before Your Feet is Matt Green, an everyday guy with an odd hobby and deep passion. After quitting his job as an engineer, Green decided to walk all of New York City and document his experience through pictures and on a blog.
Yes, you read that correctly – all of New York City. Not just some of it. Not just a large amount of it. All of it. Throughout three years, Green walked through every borough and every neighborhood, taking in everything the great city has to offer. He introduced himself to strangers, learned about the city and the important parts within it. He became fascinated with the simple joys it had to offer. He even does an entire picture series about barbershop storefronts.
“…decided to walk all of New York City and document his experience…Not just some of it. Not just a large amount of it. All of it.”
Green had a steady job but felt restless sitting behind a desk and knew there was too much world out there to be inside all day. He lives off very little money and is technically homeless, couch surfing in exchange for watching people’s cats. His diet consists of mostly rice, or whatever basic meal he can conjure up for less than a dollar a day. Green isn’t worried about his next meal or the next place he will stay, he just cares about seeing New York City. It’s almost unsettling how calm he is about the uncertainty that surrounds his life.
When making a documentary, the initial question is if the subject is worth exploring. Is it important and informative or does it have a sense of urgency that must be conveyed to an audience? On that front, The World Before Your Feet seems a bit slight or even inconsequential because why should we want to spend 95 minutes with someone who decided to undertake such a crazy journey? The movie doesn’t exactly dig deep into Green but leaves it at this is what he wants to do.
“…best when exploring untapped and often underrepresented facets of the great city.”
The movie is best when exploring untapped and often underrepresented facets of the great city. Workman’s film isn’t about glossy shots of the Manhattan skyline but about the cracks in the road and the paths behind a building, which may lead to nowhere. Following Green gives us an excuse to explore the city as well and provide new characteristics and perceptions to what we think we may already know. The World Before Your Feet is best when exploring New York’s history and legacy, the neighborhoods and the people who give them life.
Workman’s approach to telling Green’s story is pretty straightforward, following him around New York and inserting maps and graphics intermittently. At times, The World Before Your Feet can feel like a PowerPoint presentation but Green’s story is worth being a part of simply because it’s too crazy not to.
The World Before Your Feet (2018). Directed by Jeremy Workman. Starring Matt Green.
7 out of 10