A blog about movies and filmmaking.

You’ll believe a man can get high…

In awards, Documentary on May 9, 2009 at 5:43 pm

MAN ON WIRE is the story – the true story – of a man named Philippe Petit. A frenchman who has a penchant for high-wire theatrics. Literally. In the early seventies, he walked on a tight-rope (actually heavy-duty cable) between the two bell towers on the Notre Dame in Paris, the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia and the “Le Coup” was on August 7, 1974; when he walked between the two (not quite completed) towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. 

The man and his multiple accomplices pulled off this grand scheme – and in the movie it’s played very much like a heist/con-game film – with lots of planning, even more luck and taking advantage of the more lax security and “proper” behavior of the time-period. After his “performance” he and his conspirators were arrested, only to have all the charges dropped and his major penalty was Petit being ordered to put on a show for the children of New York in Central Park. 

In the movie, the interviews with Petit, and his friends who helped him and even the authorities who arrested him, all speak with awe and amazement in the events that happened that day. And the movie itself leaves you with the feeling of seeing something amazing. Petit, who still performs – as was seen when he accepted the Oscar for this documentary winning that category in the 2008 Oscars and balanced the statue on his chin – tells the story with just as much excitement today as he seemed to have had during the actual event. It’s also fun, interesting to see and hear the stories of the other people involved; whether it’s the colleagues who were excited to do this – and had helped on the previous jobs in Paris and Sydney – or the people who were going along despite kind of thinking that this would never work. (Interestingly enough, most of the nay-sayers were the American’s associated) 

As I mentioned the movie is laid out, sort of in a caper-flick sort of way, where even though we can look and know that the mission is a success; the way the story is told both through the words of the people that were there and through a fun re-enactment – with characters that seemed to so closely appear to be the real people, I could have sworn that they were using archival footage. There’s a great scene, where once on the roof of the towers, the guys are forced to hide under a tarp when a security guard approaches, and continues to hang out within mere feet of where these “criminals” are crouched down. We also get to see images of Petit performing on practice wires in a field in France and of course are introduced to the love interest of the piece. The movie really caters to all sensibilities. 

The director of MAN ON WIRE is James Marsh, who has previously worked on a number of documentaries – WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP, about a small town in Wisconsin that at the end of the 19th century had a number of strange occurrences of murder, suicide and madness; THE ANIMATOR OF PRAGUE about famed stop motion animator Jan Svankmajer and a fiction movie called THE KING, starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Paul Dano about a man that ventures into Corpus Christi, Texas to meet his father. He does a fantastic job with this material. I don’t know if I can go into any more depth in discussing it than I have already, but – and I say this without having seen the other contenders for Best Documentary – the movie definitely was deserving of whatever awards it received (which were numerous). 

I highly recommend seeing it! It’s inspiring, it doesn’t really get covered in the movie but, before this stunt the people of New York didn’t really like the WTC towers, and thought they were ugly. But, with this man having created and done something special using them, they quickly grew to be the iconic features of the New York skyline. The movie also, rightfully, doesn’t go into or discuss the events of September 11, 2001 and for a moment you almost forget that the tragedy that occurred in this same place where a man is beautifully sitting on a high-wire a quarter of a mile above the earth.


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