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
The same story is covered by the children's picture book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (2007) by Mordicai Gerstein, and the film, The Walk (2015), featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit. See more »
In the reenaction of Philippe Petit and his friend hiding from the night watchman at the WTC, a box on the floor has a present-day USPS logo. See more »
Easily one of the best documentaries I've seen, Man On Wire swept me off my feet not with spectacle but with a certain quiet recognition of the incredible events it chronicles - a team of young, rebellious twentysomethings who rigged a wire across the twin towers that their mascot, Philippe Petit, walked or as one police officer comments, "danced," across for forty- five minutes.
The reenactments are superbly done, and director James Marsh keeps the film at a short 90 minutes to keep it from getting boring. Perhaps the most surprising thing was the eloquence and insight of the comments by Petit and company. His ex-girlfriend Annie, for instance, said of meeting Petit for the first time "he courted me... and then my life was all about him. it was as if I had no destiny of my own... I was following his destiny."
Viewing the movie as a character study of Mr. Petit offers another layer to film - this man, who seems wholly self-consumed and unaware of a) the potential problems of any such idea he stumbled upon and b) the emotional pressure he was putting on his friends who could have aided his death, speaks frankly even when discussing the aftermath of his stunt - which indirectly ended many of his friendships with people close to him.
But despite his own shortcomings, viewers cannot deny Petit as the man who did something that none of us could ever imagine: he pinpointed his dream and he achieved it. "The towers were built for him." Annie comments at the beginning of this powerful and poignant study of triumph and aspiration. And in the end, it is the not the actual nineteen seventies footage depicting a tiny man walking the line between life and death that communicates this theme the most; it is a pencil drawing Petit drew on a wall beforehand - two rectangles and one, sloping line between them. It is this thin curved line, this gossamer thread connecting two shapes that signifies the whole expanse of the human spirit.
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