A look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit's daring, but illegal, high-wire routine performed between New York City's World Trade Center's twin towers in 1974, what some consider, "the artistic crime of the century."
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On August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit, a French wire walker, juggler, and street performer days shy of his 25th birthday, spent 45 minutes walking, dancing, kneeling, and lying on a wire he and friends strung between the rooftops of the Twin Towers. Uses contemporary interviews, archival footage, and recreations to tell the story of his previous walks between towers of Notre Dame and of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, his passions and friendships, and the details of the night before the walk: getting cable into the towers, hiding from guards, and mounting the wire. It ends with observations of the profound changes the walk's success brought to Philippe and those closest to him. Written by
A unique, stunning, exhilarating and beautiful experience
Constructed, believe it or not, as a heist film, composed of interviews, actual filmed footage from the seventies, re-enactments (done incredibly tastefully and intelligently) and a large number of photographs, "Man on Wire" from director James Marsh is a brilliant, audacious, stunning, and utterly enthralling film, and having seen it not more than an hour ago I can already say with confidence that it is one of the best documentaries ever made, not because it achieves the sort of brilliantly real observations on human behavior and emotions that a Maysles Bros. film does, but because it is a surprisingly hilarious, unbelievably well-crafted movie about so many absurdities, so much ridiculousness, such insane, insane acts (and yet so beautiful as well), and one which looks in on some of the most interesting people I think I've ever come across. I normally don't take to non-'cinema-verite' documentaries, but this is just about the biggest exception possible, as I will say with confidence that this is an a terrific film.
Philippe Petit, the wire-walker who walked between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, is one of the most absurd and audacious people I've ever seen in real life or recorded on film. His spirit fills every frame of the film, and his commitment to this dangerous, illegal, and almost unbelievably courageous act is astounding to witness. The film thankfully affords us the chance to get to know Philippe, and it would have been so easy for Marsh to focus only on the incredibly entertaining planning process for the audacious climactic act, but he doesn't, as through the interviews we get to know Philippe, Annie, and Jean-Louis quite well, and the interviews don't feel as put-on as they do in many other films.
I said that "Man on Wire" was one of the best documentaries ever made. I'm going to disagree with myself. As a documentary there have been many which are more effective. As a film, however, the skill that went into "Man on Wire" is absolutely outstanding. The editing, the quality of the re-enactments, the wealth of footage and still photographs, the excellent interviews, the film's wildly funny sense of humor (the audience at my screening laughed louder than a sold-out screening for most comedies), and the absolutely inspired idea to construct the film as a heist film make this one of the most memorable, exhilarating, and enthralling films I've ever come across. The idea to make it a heist film makes complete sense as well, as the careful planning that went into their entrance into the WTC towers and reaching the roof, and all the steps that led to it, definitely have the air of a typical heist film, complete with surveillance, inside men, disguises, false ID's, and all sort of wacky ruses. It's terrifically entertaining.
"Man on Wire" doesn't ignore 9/11, but it thankfully doesn't become a film which isn't about what its actual subject. There are fleeting moments (including the shot, which unfortunately is in the trailer, of Phillipe on the wire between the two towers and an airplane in the top left corner of the screen) which are immensely powerful and resonant, even chilling, but the film switches back to its effortlessly entertaining original format seconds later
Those with a fear of heights might find themselves hyperventilating at certain points in the film, as even I, someone who has never had an issue with looking down the side of a cliff, felt vertigo coming on at the still, looking down off the edge of the tower, of Phillipe sticking his foot out just before he began the walk across. I guess those are the only people I wouldn't highly, highly recommend this film to. It's a terrific, massively entertaining film, and even I, the grouchy fan of pretty much only ultra-realistic documentaries, have to admit that it is an immense artistic achievement.
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