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The Best Laid Plans of Crazy Frenchmen...
WriterDave10 August 2008
Warning: 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.
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A unique, stunning, exhilarating and beautiful experience
ametaphysicalshark20 September 2008
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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Art in the sky
Chris Knipp5 August 2008
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 be made.

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.
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A perfect heist film
se7en18716 June 2008
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.
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Fascinating and Magical
lovelyrhino11 August 2008
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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If I Die? What a Beautiful Death!
MacAindrais13 November 2008
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.
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The triumph of will as genius
chaos-rampant19 December 2008
"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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The story of an egomaniac's dream
mjscimeca30 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
While reading the user reviews of this documentary, it appears to me that a lot of people may have missed some critical subtext in the film. Most reviews tend to focus on the undeniable artistic beauty represented by Phillipe's walk between the World Trade Center towers. However, by the end of the film I felt that the filmmaker used contrasting statements and emotions of the characters to highlight the selfishness and narcissism that can sometimes go hand in hand with the drive of an artistic genius.

By the end of the film, Phillippe has become the toast of the New York for his daring and beautiful walk between the towers. He has charges against him dropped in exchange for another performance for children. To celebrate, he promptly devours the attention and beds the very first groupie he runs into.

Contrast this with the fate of his conspirators, who faced similar risks of arrest and punishment for no reward. They remain anonymous, several of them were arrested and deported. One of Phillippe's main supporters, Jean-Louis I believe, is shown crying when thinking of the aftermath. Not weeping at the beauty of the act, but instead at the callous disregard of Phillippe, who has received what he needed from his "friend" and discarded him, moving on to bigger and better things.

Even more sad is the case of Annie, the self described introverted and shy woman who made Phillippe's dreams her dreams. They clearly have a twisted relationship - Annie views Phillippe as some sort of beautiful deity who can do no wrong,a nd Phillippe views her as a placeholder for more beautiful fawning groupies to come. When Phillippe drops her like a hot potato the instant he becomes famous, she can only continue to obsess about the beauty of his wire walk. Nearly 30 years later, it is clear that this rather sad relationship is her greatest pride in life.

In the end, this film highlights personality types. There are certain people, artistic and driven, who can accomplish miraculous things. But often, that artistry and drive is fueled by extreme narcissism that ignores the impact of a person's actions on others. For example, Phillippe could care less that if he falls or drops his balance stick, he could kill a totally innocent person.

He also does not value the assistance and loyalty of these other people, who help him out of respect for his abilities or a desire to be a part of something. Once they have served his purpose, they disappear. Because in his mind, they were no longer necessary, and were only ever insignificant rocks circling a great star.

The film is an interesting character study. My only complaint is that too much time was spent slowly chronicling the largely dull build up to the caper, instead of analyzing the benefits that accrued to one man at the expense of a multitude of friends who were promptly discarded in the birth of a star.
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Outstanding psychological journey
rabbitmoon20 July 2008
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.
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Simply amazing
random_guy220 June 2008
I too saw this at the Waterfront Film Festival, and wow, what an experience.

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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Beautiful film, fascinating characters, sublime acts.
mononews27 June 2008
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.
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Man on Wire
I_John_Barrymore_I14 April 2009
Oh dear. I'm in the minority on this one, but Man on Wire did very little for me.

Perhaps it's down to the unlikable Philippe Petit himself, who is surprisingly hard to root for. I didn't care for his personality and the fact that he had so much of it just exacerbated my feelings.

For a 90-minute documentary there's remarkably little actual information. My general knowledge of the incident is still almost non-existent and I only watched it last night! Too much time is spent on Petit's other exploits and the WTC walk - supposedly the focus of the film - comes perilously close to being glossed over. The basic, essential facts of the operation are recounted in an incidental manner and are buried under mumbling voices with heavy French accents.

What Petit did was undeniably spectacular - and at its best the film captures that well, with the wire walk sequence being thrilling - and I'm tempted to say it's a shame such a feat received such a poor documentary treatment, but it's an Oscar winner, and an overwhelming success with critics and audiences alike, so I'll accept that I'm just one of the few for whom it didn't work.
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High wire act lacks tension
BJBatimdb22 October 2009
I was really looking forward to this as I'd heard so many rave reviews. But Man on Wire was only okay. The movie is over-long, heavy on shadowy reconstruction and boring interviews, and totally fails to capture the awesome nature of the feat performed, which is served only by contemporaneous stills.

The central character is not appealing enough to engage us, and reminded me of Malcolm Maclaren, which can never be a good thing. Like so many men who are driven to perform spectacular feats, he comes over as having been self-centred and demanding in the pursuit of his dream.

I was looking at my watch within 20 minutes of the start, and feel that the good basic story would have been better served by a 45 minute TV documentary.
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a fascinating and even wondrous man caught in a beautiful movie, not just documentary
Quinoa19849 August 2008
I went to see Man on Wire with my mother and a friend, and after it my mother said simply "something like this will never happen again." Meaning not so much that someone won't try something death-defying or crazy like walking a tight rope somewhere or climbing up a building (matter of fact that still happens in Manhattan as recently as a couple of months back), but that this sort of situation- a man going across something as perilous and unique as the Twin Towers- is based in a film that preserves his story like so. Philippe Petit was already a tight-rope walker who did some crazy stunts (i.e. crossing Notre Dame's stretch of space in Paris), but this was his crowning achievement which, oddly enough, didn't quite get the kind of buzz the film might depict; the day of Petit's walk across the towers, Nixon resigned from the presidency.

Just a simple profile on the man might be enough, and hearing this artist (however "French" he might get in saying that it's like poetry, which maybe it is for all I know) is something to behold as a figure who sees himself as a rebel but not without some reason or in what he does. But Marsh's magnificence is first to actually make us forget, just a second, that the towers are no longer with us; it's never mentioned in the film that they're gone, so the lingering absence is all the more troubling once remembered by the viewer. One is left with the purity of this on-the-surface stunt that becomes akin to a bank robbery to Petit, as he plans and spies on the site and forms a 'crew' to do the job of sneaking up to the top level and for three days continuing to stay elusive (even going under a tarp for hours on end with a co-hort to hide from guards) while attaching the cables- which also, at one point, nearly falls apart as a plan.

Then, second, Marsh reveals himself as good as a director of dramatization in a documentary I've seen since Errol Morris; perhaos even more daring with his black and white photography of what starts as a sneak-in (watch for fake sideburns on the actors), then transforms into a full-blown noir with beautiful lighting and exterior shots of the building and other angles that just stun the crap out of a viewer not expecting such artistry. In a sense Marsh is attempting something as daring as Petit, only by way of telling the story, however non-linearly, in a manner that should get his DP an academy nomination (if, of course, the academy ever got wise to nominate for cinematography for a documentary). And, on top of this, despite knowing partially the outcome- mainly, of course, that Petit lived to tell his tale to the camera as did his (once) friends and lover- it's still thrilling and even suspenseful to see all of this buildup if one isn't entirely researched on the details.

But it's not just about the build-up and execution of that tight-rope walk, although when Marsh gets the chance to show his subject walking across this or other examples he puts it to beautiful, heart-aching music that transcends the material just enough. The man himself, and the people who knew and/or worked under him, takes up most of the time in the story. Petit is a curious fellow who can ramble like any energetic and, obviously, passionate Frenchman, and confesses how he's always been a climber since a child and loves the aspect of showmanship when he can (when not wire walking, he juggles and rides a unicycle, a lovely if strange clown).

We also see his effect on others, like his friend Jean-Louis who co-planned the WTC project, and his lover Annie Alix who found him irrisistable and barely spent a moment worrying what would happen to him. And then there's the assorted 'characters', like in any good noir, that spring up as entertaining and interesting both in present and retrospect form; even a guy with one of those *real* twirling moustaches comes forward and talks, as well as one particular member of the crew who spent 35 years smoking pot and also during the WTC job (Marsh has a wonderful way of sort of 'introducing' them as well, in a walk-in profile and name tag). Hearing them expound about the mechanics of the job, and of Petit's personality and effect on them all, for better or worse as a kind of partially blind optimist, is also a major part of the appeal in Man on Wire.

While Marsh possibly leaves out some possibly intriguing details about Petit after this job ends (save for the immediate details about his sentence and a brief, Clockwork Orange-filmed 'fling' with a local girl), and here and there finding him or even the film pretentious isn't out of the question, so much of it is alive and enthralling and even spiritual to a certain degree that I could forigve most of its possible faults. Just seeing some of that 8mm and film footage, shot at the practice sites, and the stills of Petit's walk late in life, is something that's hard to even put into words how to feel. I'm almost reminded of the wonder one feels when seeing the physically demanding art of Jean-Cristo, who also finds specific locations to pursue his craft. You can't say it specifically, but you know it's art, as is Marsh's film itself.
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Bored on Wire
Mustang9222 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Good God, this is a painfully slow and boring documentary. It's talking heads for the majority of it, and the director often has more than one character in succession saying the same thing, but in their own different words. What are we, in kindergarten?? Your audience is not stupid, things don't have to be constantly repeated.

Parts of this story are told non-linearly, which is dumb. And I don't mean the current day with flashbacks/reenactments. I mean IN FLASHBACK (with current day voice-over), we get some of the non-linear storytelling. The editor should be shot for doing this, or allowing the director to dictate this. (If you've see the movie, you know what I mean.)

How this won an Oscar is beyond me. If this was the 1980's, okay, maybe I can understand the subject matter impressing the Academy's voters. But this was the late '00s, this is NOT good documentary filmmaking. IF this film was a 30 minute short, cutting out all the characters repeating themselves, and cutting out the incessant planning for the WTC walk, then it probably would have been decent. But apparently the director just got lost in being in love with characters talking, and talking about their plans, and reenactments of very unexciting moments. (Why?? Why would someone reenact unexciting moments??)

Now, if you happen to have the DVD and watch the short film in the Special Features section (the first one in the Special Features section), that short film is very entertaining. It moves, it's not boring, and you actually get MORE INSIGHT into Petit in this short film, than you do in the entire full-length documentary. That also is a failure of "Man on Wire"... that we learn so little about this man's take on life, when in fact the film should be about HIM. Not just on what he's done, but also about HIM.

Bottom line, this film is horribly directed, and while it could have been an interesting film, it's not. Skip it and watch the accompanying 15 minute short on the DVD.

My last issue, is that this film recycles the music/score from "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover." The composer really shouldn't have allowed that. It's good music, but every time it starts playing, I'm taken back to Peter Greenaway's film. Not good. This is why music scores are not repeated from one movie to another -- to avoid being identified with a previous film. Bad, bad, bad. Shame on this director.
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The way it was.
pk-216 October 2008
Man on Wire is the sorta film that brings back all sorts of memories. As someone old enough to remember this Philippe's amazing feat, seeing this brought back memories of old. And of course new. As a 8 year old living in NJ, I had never been to or seen NYC up to that point of my life. But a friend of mine told me about a tree nearby tall enough to see the Twin towers from the top. It was at the time of the crossing that i climbed this tree to see the top of the towers. I couldn't see the actual crossing from the 15 some odd miles from my house. But to think someone could actually do this was something i just couldn't believe. I watched the news that night and remember the video of his arrest and the footage inside the police station. Seeing this film brought back that amazing times. And for those couple hours of movie viewing brought back a time when things like this were truly amazing and cool, and when the towers stood as a great symbol of the NYC skyline and America. As evil on a human scale as 9/11, this period shown in this movie show the opposite of that scale. And how one man's dream can now be shared by all of us in this film.
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RinoBortone9121 December 2019
You could listen to Petit for hours and hours, like a sweet grandfather who tells stories of fairies and dragons to intrigue and feed the fire of children's imagination. James Marsh and Philippe Petit manage it with strength and determination, a documentary without precedents.
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How can they make such a boring film about such an amazing feat?
totally-bogus16 April 2018
The filmmakers have done the near-impossible. They made a boring movie about an astounding feat. The entire film is a paint-by-numbers attempt to contrive conflict from barely perceptible interpersonal differences on a humdrum team, and to contrive tension from a cut and dried procedure. In the end, with all the life drained out of this antiseptic mishmash, the feat itself becomes anti climactic. Or perhaps non-climactic.
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Humpy Dumpty
tieman645 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"Postmodernists believe that truth is myth, and myth, truth. This equation has its roots in pop psychology. The same people also believe that emotions are a form of reality. There used to be another name for this state of mind. It used to be called psychosis." -Brad Holland

"Art: the dearly purchased outcome of an immense spiritual risk." - Susan Sontag

This documentary is operating on at least 6 levels. On the first level it's an informative tour of history. It tells us that in 1974 a French tight rope walker by the name of Philippe Petit strung a wire between the World Trade Centre buildings and then danced upon it for 45 minutes. It introduces us to Petite's gang, collaborators and girlfriend, but avoids any real probing into Philippe the person.

On the second level, the film functions as a thriller or heist movie. Using re-enactments and gripping home footage, we watch as a group of acrobats plan their daring break-in and audacious crime. The documentary is every bit as exciting as a modern Hollywood thriller.

On the third level, the film is an attempt to mythologise Petit. Petit enthusiastically narrates the picture, stating that it was a profound vision, a feeling of destiny, that led to him conquering the towers. The documentary paints Petit as a genius, a maverick artist, inspired by imagination and fuelled by sheer will power. Like a painter, Petite had a vision and the unbridled determination to actualise this mental image.

Petit's narration is itself ridiculously theatrical and self-mythologising. He sees himself as a lover, a Romantic, an adventurer, a master artist, and his tightrope walk as nothing less than a grand statement about mankind. His tightrope walk wasn't just a narcissistic attention seeking attempt, it was art! He was challenging the world to grab life by the horns and live a life on the edge!

So on the fourth level, Petit embodies the process of art and the role of the artist. By stringing a wire between the twin towers, Petit conceptualised the space between them. He made empty space concrete. He showed millions of people something they had never seen before: a third tower made of air. He concretized a dream so that it would turn into a dream once more in the minds of others.

Like Pixar's "Ratatouille", a better recent film which deals with the same themes, "Man on Wire" says that every artist requires the space and freedom necessary for self expression, but more importantly, that this freedom will invariably pose a risk to the artist. All art requires its creator to put his or her deepest and innermost self "on the wire" for the world to see, thus risking both humiliation and failure.

Of course, it is unlikely that Petit had such noble and grand intentions when he first decided to walk on air. But I suppose his actions were nevertheless inspirational, albeit it in a clichéd "chase your dreams" and "be all you can be" way.

On the fifth level, the film is about the World Trade Centre's collapse. Of course, other than an ominous shot of an air plane, there are no overt references to 9/11 in the film. "Why burden this beautiful story with the ugliness of that?" the director has stated. But he is being disingenuous. A mood of sadness and nostalgia for a pre-9/11 world suffuses the film. We see the towers being built, the construction mess foreshadowing the wreckage after the planes hit, but more importantly, we see the wonder and joy of New Yorkers as they stare up at Petit on his wire. The film lusts for a simpler, more carefree time, when a gang of playful kids could break into the tallest buildings in the world, simply to hop and skip on the rooftops.

On the sixth level - and this is something the film doesn't actually attempt to explore - the film is about imagination as a destructive force. A braver documentary would contrast Petit's "art" and "imagination" not only with man's ingenuity and ability to construct a building as vast and complex as the WTC, but with a small gang of terrorists who dream to bring such huge structures down. This is "Clockwork Orange" territory; free will as art, ultra-violence as the result of stymied creativity, creativity as destruction. For all his guts, planning and bravery, Petit's act pales in comparison to the work of several Saudi Arabian terrorists thwarting high tech security, hijacking multiple jet planes and taking down the World Trade Centre and Pentagon buildings, an intensely visual act which was designed as a clear "artistic" statement, the "primitives" of the east violently striking the symbolic hearts of Western Hegemony, "free trade" and corporatism. But maybe people are too sensitive for such things.

And so "Man on Wire" re-packages the WTC towers, converting them from symbols of creative destruction to pillars of hope. Petite's myth is therapeutic, comfortable and appealing, but it is not the whole truth, nor is it as beautiful as it pretends to be.

8/10 – An excellent film, lent its power mostly from Michael Nyman's wonderful score. Incidentally, much of the music was "stolen" from Peter Greenaway films, who, ironically, used them in a far more depressing fashion.

Interestingly, the film doesn't contain any footage of Petit actually doing his famous walk. The director argues that such footage doesn't exist(what about helicopter news footage?), but on some level, doesn't the absence of any actual filmed record further embalm the feat in an aura of myth and legend?

Worth one viewing.
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Tight, Roped
tedg20 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
What a great example of exploiting context. A great example of narrative efficiency. A great example of cinematically fictionalizing reality, even more and better than "JFK."

Here's the event: somewhat charming French street juggler moves into tightrope juggling, moving to higher elevations. After a while, in the tradition of guerrilla performance, he does his walking illicitly between high, public structures. Eventually he walks between the twin towers of the trade center. Hardly anyone notices except the financially stressed owners of the place who use the stunt to promote rental space. The stunt is easily eclipsed by a fellow who climbs buildings, including this one.

Now fast forward. The towers are gone; and we as a people have spun them into some cosmic story. They matter all of a sudden. This is rich territory for a filmmaker who would want to ride that narrative strength and coherence.

So the story is re-manufactured. Now this guy's whole life has been dedicated to this creative expression. It is no longer something done as a street performer would — for sheer attention. It is now a work of art. He is not just on a wire (so high no one can see but the people he enlisted); he is "dancing." It is "beautiful." It justifies a life, no, it justifies all of humanity.

The way it is presented is thanks to Warren Beatty's "Red's." Or is it "Sweet and Lowdown," because I have no idea where the real and surrogate seam is. Anyway, the presentation is as admiring retrospective of the man and his challenge. The key witness is his lover, whose testimony matters more than any. Its a love story, with him tightly in her through the (here shown as) elaborate, obsessive planning of the caper.

Then the foreplay of the caper itself, where he shuts her out. There's a comical view of an airplane traveling back and forth from France to New York, always in the context of who he leaves behind, his lover. He does invite her for the actual act, but on the street as an ordinary passerby would be. Then immediately after he indulges in one of the instant groupies that briefly appear after something like this. Hungry, obsessive, needful sex and then she is out of his life.

All in all, it worked for me, and apparently for nearly every viewer. It is taught. It strikes the right balance in several dimensions. It exploits a notion of adventure, puckishness, risk, patriotic externalities, dedication and yes, even sex. Its a masterful concoction.

Those towers. As iconic now as the white house, the pentagon.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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Boredom at its finest
nugents-709-42939811 June 2013
This film should have never have been created. It is awful, I am currently watching it and I can tell you right now that suicide is a option worth considering. It doesn't even get to the actual incident until the final minutes. The rest of it is listening to some self-absorbed French lunatic talk about how he played hide and seek in his mid-30s. The fact that this won an Oscar is a joke. If I was still President, this type of blasphemy would not be acceptable in society. If this film actually portrayed the walk from tower to tower it would take a maximum of 30 minutes. This however, has been dragged out for 90 minutes and personally I want those 90 minutes of my life back. Thank you for reading my fellow Americans.

Your President, Franklin Roosevelt
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Walk the wire already!
studioAT29 September 2012
An award winning film this may be but it's not exactly an enjoyable one. It drags on and on and is nothing more than an ego trip for the man who walked across a wire.

I had the 'pleasure' of watching it for my uni course and never has 90 minutes felt so long. The actual bit where he walks the wire is interesting enough but the 80 minutes of pure talking and meandering that came before it. Get to the point and walk the wire I felt like shouting.

Now I know all art is subjective and I'm sure for some it is a very interesting documentary but I'm sorry to say I missed the point. I don't think the mans actions are ones to be celebrated in column inches let alone a feature film.
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MartinHafer12 November 2011
Considering that "Man on Wire" won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, I was expecting a lot from this film. Sadly, while a decent film, it certainly was no especially memorable or transcendent. It's watchable and competently made but that's really about all.

This film is about a man named Petite who is insane about walking on the tightrope. One of his exploits involved walking on a cable hastily strung between the two towers of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, but this wasn't enough. When he learned about the Twin Towers begin built in New York in the 1970s, he was determined to talk between them as well. But, Petite wasn't about to ask permission (he probably wasn't about to receive it) and with a group of friends he planned to sneak onto the property and to this stunt. Much of the film is about the planning of the walk as well as the walk itself.

Overall, while a decent film, I didn't particularly like Petite--who seemed like a self-absorbed guy who used his friends. Because of this, it was hard to really care about his stunt. However, the film was well made--quite competent and well constructed. Not a film I'd rush to recommend but worth a look.

By the way, surprisingly the film has a bit of nudity--just be forewarned.
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Greatness/ The greatness of the human spirit . . .
Chris_Docker2 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
In announcing the Audience Award for this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Sir Sean Connery described it as one of the best three films he had seen EVER. With that heavy recommendation, I was well-primed to disagree. I'm not sure about the numbers, but it one of the best and most worth-while documentary films I have ever seen, if not the best.

The synopsis hardly impels people into the cinema. So let me tell you how it won the audience award. Into entered the chart at the top and stayed there, beating various mainstream releases scheduled for release instantly. The effect on audiences is remarkable. It touches people.

The great philosopher Wittgenstein said he went to fight on the front line, so that, as a philosopher, he could have a better comprehension of life and death. For the Frenchman in this film, it is about art. An artistic accomplishment that is serious. A high-wire walker/dancer that pictures himself as a poet, conquering beautiful stages. And from the age of seventeen his ultimate dream-stage is the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. His passion for life is like that of the early mountaineers. An exaltation of the human spirit. A triumph of skill and daring. Life and death in the same frame. Asked why, he replies, "There is no why."

Placing a tightrope between the towers is, of course, illegal. So he plans it as carefully as a bank robbery. An interesting reflection on rules being there to be broken is cast up - but neatly parallelling the contemporaneous Watergate, we ask, to what end? Balanced along the 200 feet between the towers, a quarter of a mile from the ground, he dances back and forth eight times. We are left breathless and moist-eyed. And then he is then duly arrested and sent for psychiatric treatment (an amusing comment on how the American system can treat greatness).

Man on Wire is a beautiful film. An inspiring film. A film of a human being totally committed to his calling. And in a very small way perhaps, a crowning tribute to the magnificence of the architecture before it was destroyed.
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Beautiful documentary about the pursuit of passion
rjyelverton13 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Philippe Petit is a man of incredible charisma, grace, and focus. We are told in the documentary "Man on Wire" that as a young man sitting in a dentist's office, Petit saw an artist's rendering in a newspaper of the not yet built Twin Towers and became fixated on one day walking from one to the other on a line suspended between the two. He steals the newspaper from the office in what will become a pattern of committing petty crime to serve his passions.

"Wire" is a heist film and performance piece. Petit engages in guerrilla ballet as he breaks into buildings and then suspends wires from them in order to perform tightrope feats high in the air. His object is not to get from one end to the other, but to dance, play, and perform while high above the ground. The trespass of the buildings is an integral part of the performance and the thrill of this along with his charisma and persistence of vision allows him to gather a group of willing collaborators.

We get the impression that Petit pursued these stunts not so much for the notoriety as it was his passion. But his biggest performance--an attempt to walk between the Twin Towers--because of its audacity brought him fame and it is interesting to see how Petit and his band of collaborators deal with the newfound notoriety. In order to succeed in their feat, however, his crew must devise away to reach the top of the towers and suspend a wire between them without being noticed.

Director James Marsh's film is light on its feet and surprisingly touching. When Petit is performing, he moves with such grace and audacity. You will be surprised by the beauty of his feats. Marsh's film consists of talking head interviews, dramatic reenactments, and actual video and photos of Petit and his crew. Marsh's use of an insistent score and talking heads against dark backgrounds at times recall the films of Errol Morris.

"Wire" avoids being a mawkish remembrance of the World Trade Center, but still finds a way to honor it through recalling the performance of Petit. The film ends on a surprisingly bittersweet tone as old friends recall their lost youth and wild exploits. And as the film closes, Petit once again walks across a wire suspended above the ground, alone.
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