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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Philip Seymour Hoffman,
Clifton Collins Jr.,
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
"Genius is a transcendent capacity for taking trouble first of all" Frederick the great by Thomas Carlyle
"Genius: the mental endowment peculiar to an individual; that disposition or aptitude of mind which qualifies a person for a certain kind of action or special success in a given pursuit." Webster's International Dictionary
This is Phillip Petit, the 25 year old who in August of 1974 walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers of the WTC. Yet what is that which makes a documentary on such a fantastic, quixotic accomplishment relevant to us mortals? Is it not the same kind of awe the passers by experienced when they saw that morning a tiny figure suspended above the void, the same kind of marvel the people interviewed experienced again when they described Petit's walking on air some thirty years later? What is Petit's accomplishment if not a profound religious experience, a form of divinity in itself? And it is exactly because Petit's action bears no explanation, it has no rationale behind its daring do, no tangible end by which to hold it and examine it in the light of logic. The action in the same time the reason of it. What did Petit accomplish but a monument of human perseverance, enduring will and the triumph of mind over matter?
If MAN ON WIRE is so successful at what it does, it's not only because of the feat it purports to describe but because of the path it takes in describing it. Staging it as a heist thriller, filmed in black and white in shades of noir, orchestrated like a bank robbery of sorts, the same kind of films Petit laboriously studied as he was preparing his takeover. By presenting us with real people who emote better than a lot of actors could even dream of. By placing Phillip Petit pivotal in the narration of the events unfolding, a passionate man with an almost half-mad gleam in his eye but also a love of life that leaps across the screen as utterly genuine. By adopting the skeleton of a real movie - not a sterile "went there, did that" documentary but one with a premise, plot, setup and payoff, climax and conclusion.
Filmed with true cinematographic flair, in turns suspenseful, faith-reaffirming and awe-inspiring, MAN ON WIRE is the unexpected show-stealer of the year, sneaking under the nose of Hollywood behemoths with 50 times its budget and doing what they're too sluggish to do, too dazzled by their own spectacle. A simple story beautifully told.
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