Thursday, 10 June 2010

Man On Wire

Title: Man On Wire
Director: James Marsh,
Released: 2008
Staring: Philippe Petit, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Jean-François Heckel, Annie Allix, David Forman, Alan Welner, Mark Lewis, Barry Greenhouse

Rating: 5 / 5

Plot: In 1974 tightrope walker Philippe Petit set out to tightrope walk between New York’s the twin towers of the world trade centre, in a stunt which many would later consider “The Artistic Crime of the Century”

Review: Sometimes it’s hard not to watch something and not think about how different directors might have shot it differently (personally still holding out for a David Lynch directed Bond movie) and these were my first thoughts, as I watched this facinating documentry, more so when we are first introduced to Philippe whose passion for life and his world view, couldn’t help but make me think of the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, a feeling no doubt caused by the world view of Philippe, who not only be played by Dominique Pinon, but himself is like one of their characters brought to life, as he speaks so enthusiastically about his obsession with the twin towers and his dream to tightrope walk between them, even how he tells his story, is similar to thier style, as he makes even the most mundane of situations, such as waiting in a dentists office a fascinating situation, while at the same being complemented by the re-enactments directed by Marsh, which again have that Jeunet and Caro feel to them.

Told almost like a heist movie, the story of this astonishing feat is told via a mixture of talking heads, photographs, stock footage filmed by the group and re-enactments, which make for a full picture of not only the sheer scale but the planning which went into it, while also looking at the stunts, which lead up Philippe’s twin towers stunt, which has to be noted was years before the creation of free running or Parkour, it was even before the pool draining antics of the California skaters of Dogtown.

Marsh takes painstaking attention to the details of the stunt, from the planning , aswell as attempting to get into the mind of Philippe to try and discover what exactly makes someone, want to tightrope walk between two of the tallest buildings on earth with no safety rope and zero room for error, with these moments were Philippe is left to reel off his world view, proving to be some of the most fascinating moments of the film, as you find yourself hanging on his every word, with the film following his journey to fulfilling, what becomes an almost obsession to him, from the moment he reads about the construction of the towers, as a young boy in a dentists waiting room, followed by his walk between the spires of Notre Dame in 1971, followed by his conquest of the Sidney harbour bridge, all steps on the way to the final walk, as documents are forged, a plan is forged and tensions grow between the assembled members of his crew as the day of the walk draws closer and all of this, is presented in such a way, that rivals even the most griping of heist movies, even though the only crimes being committed are in the name of Philippe’s art. Meanwhile Philippe is painted as a lovable and never mean spirited rogue, whose disregard for the rules of society and the risks he was willing to take; only providing further evidence of his obsession, even going as far as to refer to his possible failure as a “Beautiful death” if it happened. Still Philippe is certainly skilled on the wire, as it is frequently seen throughout, as he not only walks the wire, but juggles and even lies on the wire at the climax of his walks, making what is already an impressive stunt, seem all the more extrodinary, especially when we see footage of him taunting the security staff at the Twin Towers, by running back and forth on the wire, crossing between the two towers an astonishing eight times in total, with only the threat of being knocked off the wire, by a traffic copter convincing him to finally allow himself to be arrested.

Despite this clearly being Philippe’s film, the rest of his crew still get plenty of time to air their thoughts on what they were attempting and to their credit, they are a bunch of colourful and articulate people, who at times provide more than a few laughs, with one of the standout moments, being one of the American members of the team, confessing that he’d smoked dope everyday of his life for 35 years, which makes all the less surprising that there was such distrust, between the American and French members of the crew, not helped by their lack of understanding of each others native languages, which also makes you wonder how they even managed pull off such a feat.

It might seem like Marsh is ignoring the elephant in the room, by not choosing to mention the events of 9/11 at any point throughout the film, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like it is taking anything away from the film, by not even putting the briefest of references in the film, instead choosing to focus solely on the subject matter at hand, which I know annoyed a lot of people who have seen this film, but I honestly didn’t feel it was needed to be covered here and I felt glad that Marsh felt the same way it would seem, as what remainds is a film which is both beautiful and facinating to watch right until the breathtaking climax.


  1. I caught this last year on Netflix and absolutely loved it. Spectacular story, told extremely well. One of my favorite parts was the footage from the press conference afterward, with the NY policeman who was clearly just absolutely awestruck by what he had seen. Fantastic movie that I recommend to everyone whenever I can. :)

  2. The wire walking scenes were so amazing, especially when you consider how high up he is and he's lying down on the wire and darting back and forth between the two towers.
    The final wire walk still blows me away, even after repeated viewings.


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