Man on Wire

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man on wireIn 1974, there was a 24-year-old French guy named Philippe Petit sitting in an office. He heard on the radio about the construction of the WorldTradeCenter, and how the 1,350 foot high buildings would be the biggest skyscrapers in the world. He knew he had to walk across them on a wire. Now, that’s not as crazy as it sounds. Wait…bad choice of words. It is as crazy as it sounds, but he wasn’t just a person that came up with that notion. He was a street performer who juggled, road unicycles, and was already walking on wires.

It’s 33 years later, and Petit is sitting there telling us the story just as enthusiastically as if it happened yesterday. I’m sure most will enjoy his storytelling, but if you don’t, be warned. You’ll have 90 minutes of listening to him.

Director James Marsh gave us a documentary so good, that aside from just being nominated for “Best Documentary,” this should also be nominated for “Best Picture.” That’s never happened, but hey – they sometimes nominate a movie in the “Best Foreign Film” category also for “Best Picture” (Life is Beautiful). This is the first time it should be done with this category. Especially since much of this is a recreated like a movie. It’s not a documentary that’s a series of talking heads. The recreations are better than any heist picture I’ve seen in years. It was exhilarating to watch, perhaps more so because I’m afraid of heights.

At the first screening, I grabbed the arm of the person next to me at least three times. At the second screening (which was just as enjoyable), I kept looking at my friends reaction as various things happened. I wanted to see what he thought of the craziness that was unfolding.

Early in the film, we see clips of Petit learning to walk on ropes and eventually going to some exotic locales to walk in the clouds. It’s strange that each time he walked a different place, you’re mesmerized as if you’re watching him do this for the first time. It’s also fun to look at the crowd as they glance up. You wonder what is going through their mind at those moments. I thought about the crowd looking up at The Beatles playing atop Abbey Road Studios.

There’s a point in the movie where we see the construction of the WorldTradeCenter, and I’m guessing every person watching will think it’s the tragedy of 9/11. Of course you’ll think about that many times during the documentary. The only flaw I found in the film is Petit not talking about it. Obviously it was a conscious decision by Marsh, but it was the wrong one. Surely during the closing credits we could’ve heard his take on where he was upon hearing the news.

It took Petit eight months and many friends to help him pull off this feat. Who knew how difficult it was just to get the wire from one building to another.

They used a van and pretended to be construction workers when they had to haul heavy equipment into the building (it was still under construction which made that easier). Again, you think about the terrorists and how they made a few dry runs on airplanes before pulling off the horrific tragedy they did.

Petit had to occasionally hide under tarps from security, and there was also something else he hadn’t planned on – really strong winds. Some of the still photographs taken from those moments are stunning. One shows him parallel to the roof, holding on to a pull so he’s not blown off the building.

There are some other fun touches to learning about Petit, and that included the relationship he had, the arrest for performing the stunt, and his sudden fame.

For those people that were initially reluctant to see Titanic because they knew the ending…don’t let them talk you out of seeing this. It’s an intoxicating experience and it’s great documenetaries like this that need our support. Otherwise, we’ll get the Hollywood blockbusters where we have Stallone climbing out on a wire (or cliff) to save a baby. Head to the Landmark and catch this. You’ll be glad you did (just don’t be inspired to walk across the top of their building over to the Pizza Nova…use the elevator).

It may be early in the year, but I can say without fear of contradiction – this movie is one of the Top 10 films of the year. I’m giving it an A.