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Man on Wire
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On August 7th 1974, a young Frenchman named Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire and illegally rigged between the New York's twin towers. After nearly an hour dancing on the wire, he was arrested, taken for psychological evaluation, and brought to jail before he was finally released. This documentary complies Petit s footage to show the numerous extraordinary challenges he faced in completing the artistic crime of the century.
Native New Yorkers know to expect the unexpected, but who among them could've predicted that a man would stroll between the towers of the World Trade Center? French high-wire walker Philippe Petit did just that on August 7th, 1974. Petits success may come as a foregone conclusion, but British filmmaker James Marshs pulse-pounding documentary still plays more like a thriller than a non-fiction entry--in fact, it puts most thrillers to shame. Marsh (Wisconsin Death Trip, The King) starts by looking at Petit's previous stunts. First, he took on Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral, then Sydney's Harbour Bridge before honing in on the not-yet-completed WTC. The planning took years, and the prescient Petit filmed his meetings with accomplices in France and America. Marsh smoothly integrates this material with stylized re-enactments and new interviews in which participants emerge from the shadows as if to reveal deep, dark secrets which, in a way, they do, since Petit's plan was illegal, "but not wicked or mean." The director documents every step they took to circumvent security, protocol, and physics as if re-creating a classic Jules Dassin or Jean-Pierre Melville caper. Though still photographs capture the feat rather than video, the resulting images will surely blow as many minds now as they did in the 1970s when splashed all over the media. Not only did Petit walk, he danced and even lay down on the cable strung between the skyscrapers. Based on his 2002 memoir, Man on Wire defines the adjective "awe-inspiring." --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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This documentary is about that event, or more specifically, the planning, the practicing, and the outcome of all that work. This has interviews with the actual people involved as they revisit all the events that led up to "The Artistic Crime of the Century." It's structured like a heist movie, where all the pieces are discussed, which greatly builds up to "the heist."
But the thing that sticks with you at the end are the interviews with the people ("accomplices") involved. Philippe Petit is an eccentric Frenchmen, and the fact that he got all these accomplices to help him make this happen shows you the sheer force of his personality. Once all was said and done, you can see the toll it took on the people closest to Philippe. His best friend had no words at the end, but you can understand everything he's feeling in that moment. It will leave you in awe that this amazing thing happened, but the aftermath is sad and heartbreaking.
Were the personal sacrifices worth it to Philippe? Only he can tell you. A must-watch. Recommended.
I first learned of Philippe Petit during an interview on CNN mere days after the Towers came down. The French wire walker was on a program with American George Willig, “The Human Fly,” who likewise became famous in connection with the Towers. Willig scaled the South Tower in 1977, three years after Petit’s daring wire walk (on August 7, 1974). Listening to them, it was apparent that once they got their idea—despite the very real possibility of landing in jail, never mind falling to their death—there was no turning back. They became possessed and simply had to do it.
For Petit, it was a long journey consuming a number of years, of several flights back and forth across the Atlantic, of finding ways to get some 400 pounds of equipment and three accomplices past a network of security, and most important of all, of finding a way to get a three-quarter-inch cable strung from one tower to the next, plus four guy-wires necessary to stabilize the cable, and secure it safely on both ends, without being detected. The task was as much an engineering feat as it was a test of Petit’s ability to actually step out onto the wire and perform his routine without a safety net, one quarter-mile above the streets of New York City. The lively documentary shows how he did it, and says much about his character. “To me, it’s so simple that life should be lived on the edge of life,” says Petit. “You have to exercise in rebellion, to refuse to taper yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a challenge—and then you are going to live your life on a tight rope.”