FILM: Man on Wire
FILMMAKER: James Marsh
REVIEWER: Katy Jones
Man on Wire is the story of Philippe Petit – daredevil and wire-walker who was once young and crazy (now is older and crazy). In 1974, he and a team hatched an illegal plan – to harm no one. With bank robber audacity, broke into the World Trade Center, strung a wire across the Twin Towers, and he walked between them for 45 minutes. He laid down, he knelt, he entertained, and after months of planning, he sent the world a message that anything was possible. Afterwards he got arrested, laid, and his relationship fell apart, but that was all part of the experience.
The story is resourcefully told through interviews with Philippe and his co-conspirators, now a group of excellent storytellers in their 50s and 60s. These are intercut with recreations and amazing archival footage of Philippe. Not just at moments on the wire, but behind the scenes, horsing around, flirting, arguing. I suppose artistic people always have a camera around.
Philippe is a self-made performer who taught himself most of his skills on the wire. He made his living performing guerilla tight rope acts in parks and juggling. He spent years planning the Twin Towers escapade, affectionately called “Le Coup” and it’s a real testament to what heights passion can drive a person. He made secret visits to the Towers, spying in security, building models to plan where to string his wire and where to place his anchors, He enlisted the aid of friends to help him in the caper – to help secure the line, break into the building, get past security, and share in the later arrest. “We knew what we were doing was illegal,” says several people he inspired, “that was part of the excitement.”
And indeed, its hard to get mad at a man for pursuing a dream, that the Towers were made for him to walk upon, that harmed no one, put no one at risk but those who volunteered to be a part of it, and that is remembered to this day.
Part of the wonder of his achievement is that he performed this stunt at probably the only time in history he would have been able to do so. The buildings were still under construction, allowing them to move about somewhat undetected.
There is no doubt that Philippe is a bit of strange and kooky man – I mean, who could accomplish a break in that harms no one other than a person a little off the beaten path. Who wants to walk a wire and dance in the air other than someone without the same fear of death that the rest of us have. It’s a testament to his passion and his ability to inspire others that he accomplished what he did. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and would watch it again. Grading it down a it because there’s nothing new in the way the storytelling is laid out – just a nice basic story.
4 out of 5 cheers
P.S. Side note – I am a bit disappointed that all of the American participants of his team chickened out – and only the French remained in the end of the stunt. Really not a pround testament to the American spirit.