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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
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.
I saw this at the Waterfront Film Festival in Saugatuck, Michigan.
Man on Wire is an exciting documentary about Philippe Petit who, thanks to his friends, managed to sneak into the World Trade Center in 1974 and do a high-wire act between the Twin Towers.
From the very start of the film it pulls you in, this is an amazing story and Petit is an amazing person to document. Sure, he's a reckless person and has a wild personality, but he's fascinating to watch. The interviews with him and his friends and "team" who helped pull off the stunt are extremely interesting and great to watch. It's fun watching old footage of Petit performing some of his previous acts, this guy really has talent, and may be a bit too determined and crazy. The reenactments are also well filmed and a nice job of telling the story.
This documentary plays like a classic heist film. It's filled with suspense and has many of those caper moments of mistakes that may ruin the entire job. Even though the final outcome is already known, it's still thrilling and you don't know if they will pull it off.
A well crafted film that does a wonderful job of telling the story of one man's dream and how he managed to make it a reality.
What does Philippe Petit do now? Is he Professor of Advanced Balance at
the Sorbonne? Is ha a therapist dealing exclusively in acrophobia? He
seems to be a man so specialized that he was meant in life to do only
one thing, at one time, and this film is about that moment and shows
why a moment--a half hour, actually, in the early morning of August 7,
1974--can define a life and reshape one's perceptions. After the long
slow methodical buildup, when the moment comes, calmly accompanied by a
famous piece for solo piano by Eric Satie, it is so awesome, so still,
so transcendent it makes you cry. No question why this film needed to
Why is it that walking across a wire up in the air can be an aesthetic experience so exalted it brings you to tears? I don't know, but that's what 'Man on Wire' is about.
Philippe Petit is a clown, a sprite, a magician, an athlete, and a dancer. When he was seventeen, before the World Trade Center was even built, he knew it had to be his. It was as if it was invented just for him. . This was his greatest exploit. His triumph. It was to make him world famous.
A 'funambule,' the French call them. A tightrope walker: the epitome of risk-taking Only this time he increased the risk. Like his earlier walks between towers of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and pylons of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, only more so, Petit's walk on a wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the tallest buildings in New York City, was illegal, a 'rififi,' a break-in, a caper. Some call it "the art heist of the century." But it's not an ordinary heist. They stole nothing, except the air, our breath. Petit and crew didn't take anything out. They took in a ton of equipment, most importantly enough heavy wire and support wire to secure his pathway across the towers.
If you could make a documentary about a successful robbery, it might be something like James Marsh's film about this event. There is the conception, the reconnaissance, the gathering of accomplices, some of whom out of wisdom or fear opt out, even up to the last minute. The false start and bailout. The months of rehearsal. The miniature mock-ups of the top of the towers (handsome, and in wood). The trial runs and on-scene observations, the skillfully made false documents and identities, the changes of costume (for Petit himself, businessman, construction worker, and the ballet shoes and black velvet costume of the tightrope walker And of course Petit and company were documenting all of this. Marsh has admirably gathered all the images, plus simulations, plus the present-day talking heads, several in French, the others in English. This time simulations seem quite justifiable. There are things we need to see--particularly the crew dodging and hiding from guards on the towers.
It's all like a game; a lark. And at the same time, lethal, dangerous, and a defiance of the laws of man and God. The simulations are appropriate because this is all so unreal anyway. Why not add a little fakery?
Philippe Petit is more than a little bit strange. And in some indefinable way he is also quintessentially French.. Not only has he an incredible insensitivity to danger (and drive to overcome it), but this diminutive, almost weightless fellow has his unmistakably Napoleonic side, his grandiosity. But also playfulness. One of the best moments is when he is being arrested and photographed (charge: trespassing; event description: "man on wire"), he takes a policeman's uniform cap and balances it on his forehead by the bill, then flips it onto his head. His exploit had made him a celebrity and a mascot. He enhanced life, made a partly clunky new landmark beautiful and remarkable.
After the event, he knew he was famous. How can you ask me if I'm thirsty, he says to a psychiatrist, when 300 journalists are waiting to interview me? And his first act after release was, as somebody put it "to bang a groupie," which he himself describes as "disgusting." Maybe he was steadier out on the wire, where he remained for half an hour, high over New York, without a net, crossing and re-crossing eight times by his friend's count. And then afterwards, somehow things were so bent out of shape that he ended two key relationships--with his girlfriend and his collaborator (both of whom help narrate this film).
This is troubling, but Petit is also wise, a saintly kind of man, immune to ordinary temptations (except groupies?). When asked why he'd done it, he said: "If I see three oranges, I have to juggle. And if I see two towers, I have to walk." The psychiatrist judged him "same and ebullient." His was a pure act, an existential declaration of joy, an example of how to live life daily to the fullest. "Every day for him was a work of art," says his girlfriend. "L'art pour l'art," art for art's sake, is his motto. All of which is pretty thought-provoking, and may be inspiring. At a time of many excellent documentaries, this one seems indispensable. It provides a very pure kind of thrill. Needless to say after 9/11, the buildings gone, the recreation of this moment evokes nostalgia and loss.
Actually Petit has done much since the event. Right afterward the charges of trespassing and criminal conduct were dropped with the promise that he would perform juggling acts for children in Central Park, and he was given a permanent pass to the towers. A policeman interviewed at the time says when he watched, he knew he was seeing something unlike anything he'd ever see again. Sometimes you do know. When he was interviewed for this film, he was artist in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
...sometimes work as director James Marsh and subject Philippe Petit
prove in the sublime and inspiring documentary, "Man on Wire." Here we
see Petit and his cohorts recklessly plan and execute the most daring
stunt in the history of the world. In August of 1974, Petit walked a
tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in NYC.
As part of Hollywood's increased awareness of the possibilities of counter-programming, summertime has become a haven for documentaries. Thanks to Michael Moore and Al Gore, most of the blockbuster documentaries over the past few years have been in the form of political propaganda. By simply wanting to tell the story of one man's amazing act, "Man on Wire" breezes into this summer like a breath of fresh air. The act depicted is singularly focused, but the logistics behind perpetrating the act are fascinatingly complex, and the aftermath of the successful completion of the act is breathtaking.
Director Marsh wisely avoids the typical trappings of documentaries by filming the story like a fictional narrative, jumping back and forth in time, shifting points of view, and creating palpable tension leading up to the death defying act of Petit walking across the wire. The film relies heavily on reenactments, and Marsh stages them like mini expressionistic student films full of stunning cinematography and wonderfully antiquated in-camera effects. The careful juxtaposition and blending of archival footage, still photography, reenactments, and interviews is a master-class in the school of film editing. Also adding to the film is the quietly tense music score composed of pieces from Michael Nyman and Erik Satie among others.
For those who never saw the Twin Towers of the WTC in person, the film shows beautiful archival footage of their construction. For those still haunted by their fall, the film offers a bit of catharsis as we get to watch them reconstructed piece by piece on film and lifted again on high through Petit's potently mad dream. The film is as much a love letter to New York City as it is a testament to the power of one person's vision. The film allows us to see how Petit did it, but it also gives a glimpse of the greater "why?" For beauty, for the thrill...for the sad knowledge that no one in the history of the world will ever be able to do it again.
Man on Wire (2008) ****
There was no why. No rhyme or reason, other than the fact that those towers existed. Existed, as one friend notes, for Philippe Petit to walk between them. People have always found it difficult to comprehend that Petit wire walked between the World Trade Center towers, nearly 1400 feet above the ground, without being able to justify his cause. Petit once simply stated that when he sees oranges, he juggles; when he sees two towers, he walks.
The story of how Petit and his motley crew pulled off the stunt is just as interesting as the walk itself. That day in August 1974 and the events which lead up to it are the focus of James Marsh's incredible documentary, Man on Wire. Marsh mixes documentary footage, provided by Petit and his colleagues, with reconstructions, blended so seamlessly every foot of film might as well be authentic. Petit and his friends tell the story with eager enthusiasm, particularly Petit himself. He is a man like no other. He is a ball of energy and charisma, completely harmless to everyone but perhaps himself. He has remained a child at heart.
He details the moment when he first concocted the idea to walk between the towers. While sitting in a dentist's chair, waiting to have a tooth fixed, he catches a glimpse of the towers as they are being constructed in a newspaper. He ran out of the dentist's office in a state of grace. He gleefully recounts that he didn't stick around to get his tooth fixed, and suffered the pain for weeks. But pain was no matter, he'd found his dream. He described his intentions not as a wire walker setting out to conquering heights, but as a poet looking to conquer the stage. A friend recounts that each day for Philippe was a work of art.
Petit had walked between the towers at Notre Dame, and the harbour bridge in Sydney. He was always arrested afterward of course. How joyful that when he was arrested after completing his feat in Sydney that his first order of business was to pick the watch of the police man arresting him for a gag! His reckless love for what he was doing was not fool hardy though. "The fact that death frames what you are doing makes you take it very seriously," he explains. Death was of course on his mind, but his aims were as a poet, a dreamer, an artist - not a dare devil: "If I die, what a beautiful death!" To accomplish his walk between the towers required months of preparation. The crew practiced in a field in France, with a wire the exact length between the towers. To mimic conditions, he had his friends jump and pull on the wires. He never loses balance, his concentration is impeccable. But the work doesn't end just with practice. They had to get nearly a ton of equipment to the top, all without being discovered - at least as impossible as the walk itself. They had to somehow get the rope across. How they do so is ingenious. They acquired id's to get inside, dressed as a mix of businessmen and construction workers (the towers were still partially under construction. One of the most incredible parts of the story is the night they went up to set everything up and do the walk. They're interrupted by a security guard as they begin unpacking. Philippe and his friend Jean-Francois have to run and hide under a tarp, on a beam above the WTC's 400 meter elevator shaft. They hide there, their bodies tangled, not moving, not speaking, for hours waiting for the guard to leave.
Man on Wire is built like a suspense film. It's engrossing and expertly crafted, and told with the passion and thoroughness of oral storytellers of old. Philippe Petit speaks as if he were reciting poetry in his thick French accent. Marsh accentuates the action with pitch perfect choices in the soundtrack, ranging from Satie and other classics to the disco classic A Fifth of Beethoven.
When Petit finally makes his walk, his friends gathered to watch below as he either committed suicide or one of the most poetic crimes of the century, the emotion is overwhelming. He recounts it with unbridled joy, his friends with tears in their eyes. I too was nearly moved to tears of joy. I can't remember the last documentary film to strike such a chord.
If Petit had of failed, he would have fallen to his death and likely been remembered as "that idiot." Petit recalls thinking with one foot on the wire, that to place his other foot on it and take that step was probably going to be the end of his life. Well, this life. If he fell, he would have fallen "to another life." That was his philosophy. But he didn't fall. He made it, 8 times. One police officer describes him as a dancer - he didn't just walk. He taunted police, laid down, knelt down. He had the time of his life. He was arrested with force as soon as he stepped onto the south tower - the police did not take kindly to his taunts. The charge: trespassing and disturbing the peace. The sentence: perform a show for the kids in the park as penance.
There is something so life affirming about one man boldly walking into what should have been his demise. People responded to his act of daring as if he had given charity. In a way, he had. His performance was a gift to the world. What that gift was is as abstract as the reasons for the walk itself. Sometimes we don't know why something is beautiful, we just know it is. What Philippe Petit did was beautiful, a work of poetic grandeur. Why I do not know. Words do not exist to explain. I just know.
For me, this is what cinema is all about, and this film is striking in that it encapsulates so much in a documentary. Man On Wire has more suspense, thrills, wonder, imagination, human spirit and inspiration than any other film I have seen in recent years. The music, composition and photography, structure and editing are all superb. Some of the shots are simply breathtaking. Some scenes in the film are incredibly atmospheric, and they will be forever burned in your mind. The film captures a human sense of achievement, drive and determination better than any other film I know. Heres the ultimate proof of this films power - the audience didn't shift until a good couple of minutes into the credits.
"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.
We saw this film at the Edinburgh Film Festival, it's European premier,
and it was a packed audience. Unfortunately due to an error, the reels
were swapped in the middle of the film, which threw the timing a bit
but to be honest the poor organisers looked so miserable as they
apologised that no one minded, and the film was just as beautiful as it
should have been.
We were lucky enough to have a Q&A with the director and the star, Philippe Petit where we all asked the same old questions; 'how did it feels?' 'are you scared of death?' 'what made you do it?' but what made the experience and the film so refreshing was the personality of Petit. Of course you would assume he is a rampant egotist, he was a very good looking young man, talented, with a raft of friends happy to be involved in his dangerous and exciting endevours. Petit is actually incredibly funny and oblivious. I would describe his act not as simply entertainment but as a sublime experience, taking us to the edge of terror and death.
I was worried I'd spend the whole film with clammy hands, watching a guy on a high wire so high up, but his friend describes it so well the feeling you get watching him walk up there, it's so poetic and peaceful.
This is a very unusual film, very beautiful and exciting. I would say that it is suitable for any age but take your mum and dad, they'll love it.
I too saw this at the Waterfront Film Festival, and wow, what an
It is hard to put into words just how good this film is, and on just how many levels it works. It is intensely fun, good-natured, laugh-out-loud funny at times, poignant and heart-wrenching at others. The images, not just of the central feat, but of many of Philippe Petit's performances are arresting and jaw-droppingly beautiful. Each of the supporting characters is colorful and entertaining in his or her own way, but none more so than Petit himself, who is so instantly likable that it is hard not to get immediately drawn in to this fascinating tale.
Even with this description, I am not doing the film justice. I have not seen a film this good in years. If you have a chance (I believe it is scheduled for release in August), GO SEE THIS MOVIE.
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