One All the Way (2021) - Montauk Film Festival - Winner of the "Social & Cultural Short" Award
In his 2016 feature Paterson, indie legend Jim Jarmusch follows the daily hum drum of a poet bus driver (played by Adam Driver) as he eats sandwiches from his lunchbox, walks his bulldog, and eavesdrops on his passengers along his route in Paterson, New Jersey. There's no shootouts or break-ups; there's a morning alarm clock, a spaghetti dinner with one's wife, a beer with a bartender friend after work. These are the tiny poetic moments of settled life in an industrial American town.
I was reminded again of Paterson, New Jersey and those passing moments as I watched Dave Baram's One All the Way (2021) at the Montauk Film Festival. The 25-min short follows a friend group of three elderly hotdog enthusiasts as they tour Paterson for the perfect Hot Texas Weiner and reminisce on the old days. At first, the story seems like a lighthearted food crawl with 83 year old Harry and his friends Ron and Larry. Soon, however, the three friends begin to lament the changes in their town.
The city of Paterson is past its glory days as the manufacturing mecca of the Rust Belt. Other movies have documented the decay of the American industry: Netflix's American Factory (2019) shows a version of this in the General Motors heartland of Ohio while 1989 film Roger & Me and Ben Hamper's 1991 book Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line offer the same view of Flint, Michigan. Economists still argue over the cause (globalization, the offshoring of labor, automation, the stagnation of wages and rise in the cost of living, healthcare, and education, or even the corruption of Washington) but one thing is clear: the way of life of Harry, Ron, and Larry is no more, and with it, the spirit and connectivity of their hometown is in decline.
This is the trend which propelled Trump to the presidency; people long for the golden age of the mid-century American middle class when jobs at factories and restaurants supported the lifestyle of Jarmusch's Paterson for millions of Americans. Yet even in that film, the mostly idyllic Paterson showed wear and tear, like when a group of bandana-wearing tough guys tell Adam Driver's character that people in the neighborhood would like to steal his dog. When Driver walks through the factory near the Paterson Great Falls, we see the cracks and ruins of old homes, the infrastructure of urban poverty.
This decay is told through personal narratives in One All the Way. Harry and his pals meet with real historians and immigrant owners of classic establishments to learn that over time each hotdog joint closed down, including the one in which Harry proposed to his wife years ago, and became replaced by franchises like Burger King. When the factories shut down, the jobs went with them and a whole class of people were upended. We're shown a drone shot of the ruins of a baseball stadium where Harry used to play alongside his stories of romantic days of yore. It's a tragedy but the guys don't feel pity, they just hope that change is on the way, change for Paterson and for thousands of cities like it across America.
It's a thoughtful-provoking movie, one which raises many questions about the future of a country while paying homage to a wave of Greek and Italian immigrants who cultivated a robust way of life that now seems to be gone. It's light on lecturing and finger pointing and heavy on emotional understanding and preservation. But people like 83 year old Harry (eternally optimistic, quick to a joke, charmingly kind) and his friends resist the decay and show the resilience of a post-Fordist country fractured by economic forces beyond their control. Harry seems to beam with the hope of an entire country. 4/5 stars, a powerful documentary that is equal parts heartfelt and worrisome.
This piece was originally published on Nest by Tamara, an interior design and lifestyle journal. The 3rd Annual Montauk Film Festival was held Saturday, July 23rd to Sunday, July 31st in Montauk, Long Island at various venues. Visit here to learn more.