I can’t imagine there are many of you who have not seen this photograph. Eleven men eating lunch on a steel girder 800 feet above Manhattan. It is one of the most iconic photos ever taken and one of my favourites. These eleven men were high steel workers near the top of the Rockefeller Center (30 Rock) in 1932 at the height (so to speak) of the depression. The intriguing aspect of the photo is that no one knows who took it or who the men are although many claim to be related. This puzzle attracted the Irish director who wanted to learn who they were and how the photo came to be. The result is a fascinating film about the history of New York during the depression, the extreme danger of the work these men did and the history of immigration to America. This is a very Irish film from the director to the Gaelic speaking historians who needed sub-titles, to the contemporary Irish photographer who is taking photos of the high steel workers currently building the replacements for the twin towers, to at least two of the men in the photo who come from the little village of Shanaglish in County Galway in Ireland. In the course of the research he is able to prove that the men at the far left and right of the picture are in fact from this little village but the others remain a mystery although they are representative of the great European immigrations that make New York what it is today.
He is also able to debunk the theory that the photo is faked, with a chance to see the now shattered glass plate negative from which the prints have been taken clearly not photoshopped like they could even do that then. There are also many other similar shots of both workers and photographers standing untethered on six inch beams 800 to 1200 feet about the ground. Many men died doing this work although it paid well and at the time roughly one third of New Yorkers were out of work due to the depression so they felt lucky to be making upwards of $10 a day for their efforts. The unofficial motto of the union was: We don’t die, we are killed.
A fascinating film and if you have any curiosity about this photograph at all you will do well to track this down and spend 90 minutes completely engrossed. I promise.
Men at Lunch
Although I have a real problem with Billy Bob as an arrogant self-important snob, I confess that this movie is actually really good and much of the credit goes to Billy Bob despite being assisted by an amazing cast that includes Robert Duvall, John Hurt and Kevin Bacon. Billy Bob and Robert Duvall were at the screening I attended and there was a Q and A afterward that was good (I guess because no one asked Billy Bob about his musical career – see link below). The film is set in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War in a small town in Alabama. It focuses on the funeral of the former matriarch of the family who had left Robert Duvall and moved to England where she re-married a sophisticated Englishman played by John Hurt. No one in the US had heard from her in years until she passes away and asked to be buried in Alabama. What ensues is a confrontation of cultures from two families who are equally dysfunctional as the English family brings the body home for burial. Both families have been through war with all the men having served in the First or Second World Wars or in Vietnam and their experiences have taken a terrible toll on them all including particularly the relationships between brothers and fathers. The meeting results in a moving exploration of the impact of war on families and ultimately ends in reconciliation between and within the families.
It turns out to be an autobiographical film in many ways and Billy Bob talked about that in the Q and A. I have to say however that despite this particular piece of work being very good; Billy Bob has lots of other issues to resolve. Like how happy he is to be in a country (Canada) he has described as mashed potatoes without the gravy. Or like his infamous interview with Jian Ghomeshi. The link is here for those who are interested – Billy Bob Thornton and the Q Interview.
So a man with a highly inflated ego appears to have done a great job on this project – he is very good himself as one of the brothers but Robert Duvall is simply amazing, (Oscar worthy again and likely to lose out to something less subtle) as is Kevin Bacon who is one of the most underrated actors in with world. So definitely worth seeing.
Oh – what has Jayne Mansfield got to do with it? Well Mansfield – a sex symbol to compete with Marilyn Monroe but less messed up than Marilyn – died young as well at age 34 in a horrible car accident. Following the American entrepreneurial spirit someone bought the car and toured it around so those with morbid curiosity could see the wreck. The car rear ended a tractor trailer and the top was cut off causing severe head trauma to the victims. Some have said she was decapitated but this is untrue. Nonetheless the tour included a plastic replica of her head on the seat of the car. In one scene in the movie Robert Duvall takes John Hurt to see the exhibit and it is the start of their bonding. Strange yes?
Jayne Mansfield is the mother of Mariska Hargitay by the way – Olivia in Law and Order S.V.U. Save that for your next trivial pursuit game.
Jayne Mansfield’s Car