Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Movie Review: Man on Wire

Maybe it's the writer in me. Or the fact that I watch a lot of movies. But for whatever reason, I felt compelled to write a movie review. At least the movie in question has some link to the other themes of this blog.

To simply say that Man on Wire tells the story of French high-wire walker Philippe Petit's stroll between the towers of the World Trade Center misses the point completely. Most New Yorkers know that on the morning of August 7, 1974, Petit not only walked a wire strung between the roofs of the two towers, he spent nearly an hour walking back and forth, even laying down on the wire at one point and saluting the police waiting to take him into custody. The film's title is a reference to the charges filed against Petit, (tresspassing, disturbing the peace, "man on wire"), which were later dismissed in exchange for him putting on slightly more sedate, free performance for the children of New York.

I even remember where I was that day (although it's not an event so etched in my memory that I remember what I was doing, or anything like that). But that was quite a summer. I was taking summer classes at Syracuse University School of Architecture. A few weeks later, Richard Nixon resigned.

Nor can you just say that Man on Wire is a documentary. Because in spite of the fact that we know what's going to happen, British filmmaker James Marsh delivers a pulse-pounding story that's more like a thriller than many supposed thrillers I've watched recently. It helps that the young Petit had the foresight to film much of the preparation for his feat. Of course, there was also news footage of those preparations, like the time he secretly rigged a wire and then walked between the towers of Notre Dame Catherdral in Paris. He later performed a similar feat between two towers of the Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia.

The film integrates Petit's "home movies" with stylized re-enactments and interviews with many of the participants as the director documents every step Petit and his team took to circumvent both the security at the nearly completed World Trade Center and the physics of smuggling nearly a ton of stainless steel cable and rigging into the towers and then figuring out how to string it between them.

Thirty-five years later, and with the twin towers gone, the feat, and this film, remain absolutely mind-blowing. When I brought the DVD out to watch the other night, my daughter initially wanted no part. But inertia prevented her from leaving the room and minutes into the film, she was hooked. We even ended up watching all the special features. I think you will as well.

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