Wait, where are you going?
Seriously, Man on Wire is astounding to watch. I heard raves about this film throughout 2008, but it was the passionate praise by talk radio host Michael Smerconish that convinced me to check it out.
Man on Wire focuses on high-wire artist Philippe Petit and his amazing feat of walking on a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers on August 7, 1974. Through old footage, recent interviews with Petit’s team, and reenactments, director James Marsh uses the majority of the film to set up events that led to this historic stunt – setting up Petit’s act as if it were criminals planning a heist.
This is not much of an exaggeration. Petit’s stunt involved much of the same elements as a well-plotted robbery: a van, disguises, fake credentials and documents, even an “inside man” who helped Petit’s team gain access to the towers, which were brand new and still largely unoccupied.
One of the more amazing aspects of Man on Wire, aside from the event itself, is the vast amount of pristine archival footage (with full color and sound) of Petit’s team preparing, planning, and practicing the stunt in French fields and at their homes. And when the walk between the towers finally takes place, the images (accompanied by the tranquil piano score of J. Ralph) are, in a word, breathtaking.
Petit speaks about his stunt with such passion and animated expressions and gestures, it feels as if he had just done it yesterday, not 35 years ago. He’s not only a life-risking tightrope walker; he’s a master storyteller.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the feelings that rose in me while viewing footage early in Man on Wire of the World Trade Center towers being built. It was somewhere between depressing and bittersweet to watch these men build the foundation and skeleton to the towers – two monuments to global capitalism that are no longer there.
To Marsh’s credit, however, there is no discussion of 9/11 and the fact that the towers are gone. In describing Man on Wire as one of the best films of 2008, Entertainment Weekly film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum summed it up best: “…nowhere does Marsh mention that the buildings no longer exist, or why. There's no need. For a brief, sweet moment in a film of tender awe, they stand again.”
If there’s one thing to take away from Petit’s story, it’s the attitude he had when scouting the World Trade Center location before his walk. His reaction is a mantra for anybody up against insurmountable odds or obstacles: “Okay, it’s impossible. Let’s start working.”
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5).
Will your kids want to watch it?I think any kid 10 or older would find Man on Wire interesting to watch. It may prompt a longer discussion about the World Trade Center if you’re children still aren’t completely aware about what happened to the towers. And while Man on Wire is an unrated documentary, there are minor instances of adult language and a partially nude woman shot in shadows (this scene lasts for less than 10 seconds).
Will your FilmMother like it?I implore you to have her watch this movie with you. And if you see it before she does, I think you’ll agree it’s worth a second viewing.
Man on Wire
* Director: James Marsh
* Producer: Simon Chinn
* Stars: Philippe Petit, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Annie Allix, Jim Moore, Mark Lewis, Jean-Francois Heckel, Barry Greenhouse, David Foreman, Alan Welner
* MPAA Rating: NR (brief adult language, adult situations, brief nudity)
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