Man on Wire
Title: Man on Wire
Author: Academy Award; Independent Spirit Award (2008)
A look at the high-wire walk made by Philippe Petit in 1974 between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City, and how it is still considered one of history’s most artistic crimes.
Native New Yorkers know to expect the unexpected, but who among them could’ve predicted that a man would stroll between the towers of the World Trade Center? French high-wire walker Philippe Petit did just that on August 7th, 1974. Petit’s success may come as a foregone conclusion, but British filmmaker James Marsh’s pulse-pounding documentary still plays more like a thriller than a non-fiction entry—in fact, it puts most thrillers to shame. Marsh (Wisconsin Death Trip, The King) starts by looking at Petit’s previous stunts. First, he took on Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, then Sydney’s Harbour Bridge before honing in on the not-yet-completed WTC. The planning took years, and the prescient Petit filmed his meetings with accomplices in France and America. Marsh smoothly integrates this material with stylized re-enactments and new interviews in which participants emerge from the shadows as if to reveal deep, dark secrets which, in a way, they do, since Petit’s plan was illegal, “but not wicked or mean.” The director documents every step they took to circumvent security, protocol, and physics as if re-creating a classic Jules Dassin or Jean-Pierre Melville caper. Though still photographs capture the feat rather than video, the resulting images will surely blow as many minds now as they did in the 1970s when splashed all over the media. Not only did Petit walk, he danced and even lay down on the cable strung between the skyscrapers. Based on his 2002 memoir, Man on Wire defines the adjective “awe-inspiring.”—Kathleen C. Fennessy