Thursday, January 26, 2012

Man on Wire

Release Date: 2008
Studio: Wall to Wall
Director: James Marsh
Run time: 90 minutes
Seen on: Netflix DVD and Watch Instantly
Recommended:  Yes, it has the pacing of a good heist film.  Won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2008, recommended on CurrentTV's "50 Documentaries to See Before You Die."
Rotten Tomato Rating: 100%
Showing on TV:  Sundance Channel, Wednesday, February 1, 7:25 AM, 12:00PM, 4:40 PM

"Man on Wire" documents the obsession of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit.  His obsession was the yet unfinished World Trade Center Towers in New York City. 

The doc is crafted like a heist movie, combining re-enactments, interviews, photographs, and vintage films.  From the beginning, they discuss how they needed to sneak into both towers in order to string the wire and ultimately walk the line.  The "heist" comparison lends a sense of drama and immediacy to an event over 20 years in the past.  Since the doc combines modern interviews, you know that Petit survived his ordeal.  But one wonders how and why he attempted this feat.

Petit began his interest with WTC after seeing a plan of the towers in a magazine.  He was taken with the visual and wanted to bridge the span.  Petit had already spanned the towers to Notre Dame in Paris, France and Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia.  However, these had much less difficulties than the World Trade Center.  The WTC had the difficulty of being two separate structures, designed to withstand high winds.  The structures moved with the wind and their roofs were susceptible to high winds.

The doc moves you towards the inevitable point of his walk, but it does not rush you there.  It takes a leisurely stroll, stopping to talk to people on the way, watching Petit train, and re-imagining the hiding and risk they took.  Overall, it was an effective documentary despite the fact that there is no film footage of his walk from the rooftops.  The footage from the ground is combined with still shots to place you on the rooftop watching him.

Fun fact:  Ten years ago, I learned that the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City had a high-wire artist as an artist-in-residence.  Petit is that artist.

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