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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Top Customer Reviews
Late in the summer of 1974, a diminutive Frenchman named Philippe Petit made a splash (of the figurative kind, luckily) by treating unsuspecting NYC morning commuters to the sight of a lifetime: a man taking a casual morning stroll across a ¾" steel cable, stretched from rooftop to rooftop between the two towers of the then-unfinished World Trade Center, 1350 feet skyward. After traversing the 200 foot wide chasm with supernatural ease, he decided to turn around and have another go. And another. And another. All told, Petit made 8 round trips, with only one brief but memorable rest stop. He took a breather to lie on his back (mid-wire) and enjoy what had to have been the ultimate Moment of Zen ever experienced in the history of humankind, contemplating the sky and enjoying a little chit-chat with a seagull.
Now, a stunt like this doesn't just happen on a whim. There are a few logistical hurdles to consider beforehand. Like how do you transport 450 lbs of steel cable to the roof of one tower of the World Trade Center, and then safely tether it across to its twin? A clandestine operation of this magnitude requires meticulous planning, and at least a couple trustworthy co-conspirators. Sounds like the makings of a classic heist film, no?
All of this potential for a cracking good true-life tale was not lost on director James Marsh, who enlisted the still spry and charmingly elfin Petit, along with a few members of his "crew" to give a first-hand account of events leading up to what can perhaps best be described as a "performance art heist". Marsh also deserves kudos for his excellent choice of music; the accompaniment of Peter Green's sublime, haunting guitar instrumental "Albatross" to one of Petit's more balletic high wire walks is an unexpected treat, making for a truly transcendent cinematic moment.
Of course, the foremost question on anyone's mind would be "Why did he do it?" At the time, he enigmatically offered "When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk." Petit himself remains a bit elusive on the motivations for his stunts. The director doesn't really push the issue, which I think is a wise choice. When you watch the mesmerizing footage of Petit floating on the air between the towers of Notre Dame, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and then ultimately the World Trade Center, you realize that it is simply an act of pure aesthetic grace, like a beautiful painting or an inspired melody. And you also suspect that he does it...because he can. That's impressive enough for me, because I can barely balance a checkbook, and when it comes to heights, I get a nosebleed from thick socks.
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.
Those interviews of middle-aged daredevils, reminiscing about their greatest caper, were as intense for me as the dodgy accomplishment of the adventure. It was literally the end of a love affair with life for all of them, something "too hot not to cool down," an overture too overwhelming to be followed by a mere opera. When Petit's boyhood friend broke down in tears at the waning of their friendship, when Petit's wife-the-love-of-his-life felt the reality that his life no longer needed hers, the whole social cost of Petit's obsession moved me also almost to tears. Hey, I might have cried if my heart had slowed down to twice normal. I felt an urge to grab my son and hug or shake him, saying "don't let your art be more to you than your life."
There's more to this film than a mere victimless heist thriller.