A picture is worth an hour’s worth of words in Men at Lunch, a documentary about the famed 1932 “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” photograph that, according to image repository Corbis, remains the most valuable in the world. Narrated by Fionnula Flanagan, Seán Ó Cualáin’s film is a loving tribute to the photo, whose depiction of 11 men sitting atop a steel girder amid construction of 30 Rockefeller Center remains an enduring icon of innumerable things: New Yorkers’ relationship to their metropolis; the struggles and successes that defined the immigrant experience; and the aspirations, toughness, sacrifice, and resiliency of Americans both during the Great Depression and afterward. Through a standard mix of interviews and Ken Burns–style aesthetics, Cualáin details how the picture, symbolizing so much to so many, has in turn led to innumerable people’s claims that it was their relatives featured up on that steel beam. Given Men at Lunch‘s compelling argument that the identity of its anonymous ironworker subjects is beside the point—that mystery is a prime facet of its enduring appeal—the documentary’s desire to determine who they really were comes across as unnecessary. Nonetheless, shots of modern men rebuilding One World Trade Center stirringly evokes the majestic photo’s continuing connection to the present.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 18, 2013