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Man On Wire
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by Mel Valentin

"A fascinating, compelling documentary. One of the best of its kind."
4 stars

Directed by James Marsh, "Man on Wire" is a riveting documentary about wirewalker extraordinaire Philippe Petit and his daring high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on August 7, 1974. Petit and his seemingly impossible high-wire act became a national obsession (and sensation), covered in local and national newspapers and on television. The adoring press coverage Petit received made it impossible for the state of New York to prosecute Petit (he was charged with ?criminal trespass? and disorderly conduct?). Instead, Petit was asked to perform in front of children. His high-wire act was more than a stunt. As "Man on Wire" makes clear over its ninety-minute running time, Petit?s dance across a steel cable connecting the Twin Towers became performance art (in the positive, non-pejorative meaning of that term).

Using archival footage, including home movies taken by Petit and his friends, photographs, dramatic recreations, and interviews, Man on Wire documents Petit?s grand adventure, from the first moment he became obsessed with walking between the Two Towers at the age of 17, through his arrest by Port Authority police officers and subsequent notoriety after he completed the wire walk between the Twin Towers. In 1968, Petit came across an article describing the Twin Towers (construction on the foundation had only just begun) while he waited for a dental appointment. Over the next seven years, Petit perfected his art as a high-wire walker in smaller venues, including Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia. Time and again, however, Petit returned to his grand obsession: crossing the negative space between the Twin Towers on a 3/4-inch 619 IWRC steel cable a quarter of a mile above the ground.

Petit, along with several co-conspirators (French, American, and Australian), spent months planning his wire walk across the Twin Towers. At the time, the Twin Towers were still under construction, with access limited to construction workers and office workers on the lower floors. Petit and co-conspirators pretended to be journalists, the better to ?case? the upper floors of the World Trade Center and, specifically, the roofs. On the August night before his attempt, Petit and his team snuck into both towers, along with several hundred pounds of equipment (the steel cable alone weighed 450 pounds). Before then, of course, the biggest task for Petit and his team was how to get the steel cable across the space between the Twin Towers and how to secure and stabilize it. The ingenious solution, a bow and arrow, fishing line connected to the arrow, increasingly heavier ropes, and, finally, the steel cable.

Luckily for Marsh (and us), Petit is an energetic, enthusiastic interview subject, eager to describe every detail (at least every detail he can remember) of the wire walk and the planning that went into making it a success. While Marsh also interviews Petit?s friends, associates, and his then girlfriend, all of whom speak of Petit in mostly positive terms, Petit remains the focus of Man on Wire from the first frame through the last. Marsh was also helped by the access Petit gave him to the home movies and photographs taken before Petit?s wire-walk between the Twin Towers. Without those archival materials, Marsh would have depended on dramatic recreations more heavily; in effect diminishing Petit?s accomplishment from transcendent (it was, for him and everyone who watched him back in 1974) to the mundane and ordinary (an obvious disservice to Petit?s wire walk).

Not surprisingly, "Man on Wire" won the Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema Documentary and the World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary at this year?s Sundance Film Festival. It?s certainly a crowd-pleaser deserving of a wide audience. As a documentary, it probably won?t get the audience it deserves, at least not theatrically, but "Man on Wire" should do significantly better once it goes to DVD and other ancillary markets (e.g., on-demand, streaming video, and cable).

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16975&reviewer=402
originally posted: 08/08/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/24/11 Annie G Great film, but not for the acrophobic, like me! 4 stars
1/23/11 Mark Smith Beautiful,unbelievable.Loved it. 5 stars
11/25/09 luke i do not like the perthtic film 1 stars
10/01/09 mr.mike Is no bad. 4 stars
3/19/09 R.W. Welch Fearless Frenchie pulls off stunt of the century. Unique doc. 4 stars
3/16/09 Sevarian Beautiful in all areas 5 stars
2/28/09 Piz pretty cool but version I saw had no subtitles for french parts. definitely worth the time 4 stars
8/18/08 George Barksdale This was a very good documentary 5 stars
8/16/08 Margeaux Wonderful documentary! 5 stars
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  25-Jul-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Dec-2008

  N/A (12)

  25-Jul-2008 (PG)

Directed by
  James Marsh

Written by

  Philippe Petit

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