Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘The World Before Your Feet’ offers an unconventional perspective on New York City

Matt Green walks every block in New York City in this documentary
(Courtesy of The World Before Your Feet official Facebook page)

Everyone “knows” New York. Even if you’ve never been, you’ve seen the city glitter on a projected screen 50 feet high, or made soft and cozy in the small screen in your living room. However it’s happened, you’ve walked through the cacophony of sound and color; you’ve felt that feeling of crushing and exhilarating insignificance. You have the t-shirt somewhere, ironically or sincerely: “I HEART NYC.” You “know” New York. At least, you think you do.

If you were to ask Matt Green, the subject of the 2018 documentary “The World Before Your Feet,” he’d say that no one really knows New York. In fact, according to Green, you can live in one part of New York your whole life and find one day there’s a street a block over that feels like a brand-new world. In “The World Before Your Feet,” Green makes it his mission to truly discover the city that no one truly knows by walking every block in New York.

The film is unlike most big-budget documentaries you could see in theaters this year. Matt Green is not a celebrity, and what he is doing isn’t anything especially flashy or groundbreaking. He and director Jeremy Workman are not looking to uncover or expose anything. It doesn’t fit neatly into any documentary genre—the filmmakers directly go against the notion of cinema verité, blurring the line between documentarian and subject.

The impetus for this journey across New York City came from a similar project that Green conducted in 2010. Green walked from Rockaway Beach, Queens to Rockaway Beach, Oregon. He quit his desk job as an engineer to complete the walk, sustaining himself mainly on his savings.

He doesn’t give a clear reason for why he decided to make this drastic change, other than hints from the talking heads of those around him, dropped sporadically throughout the film. His parents suggest that a near-death experience may have instigated the idea, while his ex-girlfriends credit it to a larger preoccupation of favoring the immediate present over the uncertainty of the future.

These interviews with Green’s loved ones and a short interview with the film’s director are the closest that the audience gets to peeling back who the man truly is. Green is an affable and easy-going character, but so one-dimensional that one is left wondering what gives him the ability to melt into his surroundings.

The documentary, like its protagonist, moves at an unhurried, meandering pace. As I watched it, I found myself searching for some sort of story or a structure that I could latch on to. But the film is constructed like Green’s mind. It is less interested with creating larger meaning as it is slowing down and showing you the city separate from its typical indecipherable blur of cliché and preoccupation. It is a film that merely presents the surface to its audience through the lens of a man who values simplicity above all else.

While there is something charming about the approach, it leaves me wishing they had dug a little deeper. At the end of the day, the point of interest of this film is not New York City, a place we all know (or think we know). The real intrigue is Matt Green, a man who will not let us know him.

Here is what we know about Matt Green: he loves history. He loves research and the simple purity of gaining knowledge. He prefers walking above all other modes of transportation, because it forces him to fully absorb his surroundings. He is wholly unconcerned with how he is perceived by those around him. He is dedicated, sometimes to a fault, and incapable of stopping once he has started. He will plan for today and tomorrow, but not much else after that. He pushes away those close to him in pursuit of something he cannot name. His end goal is not to complete, but to experience. He has still, even upon completion of the film, not walked all of New York City.

When the camera trails away and the film comes to its end, Matt Green is still walking. It’s not entirely clear that he’ll ever stop.

Courtney Song can be reached at [email protected].

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