Duncan's blog

August 17, 2008

Man on Wire review

Filed under: Film — duncan @ 12:11 am
Tags: , , , ,

I went to see Man on Wire at the cinema on Saturday. It’s a documentary about Philippe Petit, who in 1974 walked between the Twin Towers on a tightrope. It’s done with a combination of interviews with Petit and his friends who helped him, archive footage of the Twin Towers, re-enactment of some scenes, and extensive film footage and photography taken by Petit and friends at the time. In fact that footage they shot lends a huge amount to the film, and they seemed to show real foresight to have filmed so much, their training for it, their conversations while plotting how to do it, etc.

Spoilers below

The whole film is based on Petit’s book To Reach the Clouds. I haven’t read it, but if all it did was reprint some of the photos we see in this film, it would be pretty good.

The film itself feels very much like a heist or caper, because Petit and his friends are shown planning the whole thing like a bank robbery. But unlike the typical heist film, it doesn’t all end in tragedy. There are also elements of Urban Exploration (UE) in there, when Petit and friends repeatedly gain access to the Twin Towers while meticulously planning the walk, including posing as journalists.

It also reminded me very much of The Human Spider, the Channel 4 documentary about Alain Robert, who instead of walking between tall buildings, climbs up them. I’d say Robert’s feats were more impressive, but as a film, Man on Wire wins out.

Both Petit and Robert come across as being driven characters, and charismatic but not quite entirely likeable. In the end the only tragedy is that following the WTC high wire walk, he became estranged from his best friend and girlfriend.

Another Channel 4 documentary it brought to mind was The Falling Man, about one of the 9/11 victims who jumped/fell from the North Tower at the WTC. Interestingly there was no mention or even vague references to 9/11 throughout Man on Wire. A good idea; the events took place 27 years earlier, and it would just have confused things.

A good score from Michael Nyman helps keep the emotional tension throughout.

Probably the best documentary I’ve seen this year. Recommended.

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