Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Movie Review: Man on Wire

Man on Wire (2008) 9/10
Philippe Petit, after six years of planning, successfully walked a high wire across the Twin Towers in 1974. Documentary.

There is no end to the charm and delight of Man on Wire. Here is a man utterly unlike you and me: A man who has dedicated his entire life to living art; he is a performance piece. He is not an adventurer, a psychotic with a death wish, or a circus freak. If you can't accept that premise, you can't really get into the movie.

Which you should, because it's awesome. The movie practically made itself. Petit was interested in filming his work from the beginning, and so there is tons of footage for director James Marsh to put together. The project began before the towers were even built; when Philippe saw a sketch of the World Trade Center, before construction began, he knew that he had to walk across them.

Petit is a unique high-wire artist in that he is self-taught. Most such performers are raised in high-wire families, generally in the circus, and while Petit has worked in the circus, he came to it on his own. This gives him a completely different attitude towards his art than other high-wire performers have, and thus he came to the idea of public, illegal walks on landmarks and important public structures.

The first such walk he did was across the towers of Notre Dame in Paris, his home city. All the components of the Twin Towers walk were there, if in smaller scale; the planning with a group of friends, acquiring equipment, breaking in, and filming/photographing the whole event. But nothing in Paris or Sydney could approach the scale and complexity of the New York walk. How would the equipment be smuggled into the building? How would the wire get across from one tower to the other? How would Philippe manage the intense winds at such a height? All of this had to be planned.

At first, we see that Philippe is not long on planning. He wants spontaneity. As a result, his first attempt failed. But his team includes friends with greater attention to detail, and ultimately, famously, the whole thing came together.

My one complaint about Man on Wire is that the way documentary and recreated footage are placed together is confusing. It actually took me a while to figure out how to watch the film. It didn't occur to me that Petit's crew had actually been filming themselves for all these years; a little remark to that effect would have gone a long way.

September 11 is never mention in Man on Wire. It doesn't need to be; we all know where those towers are now. But wherever we thought they were, they are now also a part of this joyful and bouyant film.