Man on Wire

One of the biggest winners of Full Frame (Special Jury Prize and the Full Frame Audience Award) was James Marsh’s highly enjoyable Man on Wire (IMDB), which tells the story of Phillipe Petit’s audacious and whimsical tight rope walk between the two World Trade Center Towers on August 7, 1974. Petit, who had previously completed high wire walks on the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and on a bridge overlooking the Sydney Opera House, performed for 45 minutes for an astonished New York City audience before being arrested. The images of Petit suspended in the sky on a cloudy New York morning are, no doubt, breathtaking, and while the images of the towers inevitably bring back memories of the 9/11 attacks, Marsh deftly brings us back to what seems like a more innocent time, celebrating Petit’s artistic philosophy and Petit and his crew’s amateurish, if ultimately successful, adventure.

As Tom Hall notes in his Sundance review, Man On Wire primarily plays as a heist film, with the central participants, Petit and his band of friends and followers, relating their efforts to stake out the World Trade Center, which was still under construction at the time. As they discuss plans to smuggle cable into the building by posing as construction workers, for example, we get a clear sense of how easily they could have been caught. In addition, as the narrative unfolds, we also learn about the petty jealousies that permeate the group, and yet all of the participants seem to remain astonished at what they pulled off, even more than 30 years after the fact.

Marsh wisely underplays any attempt to impose an interpretation of Petit’s act, which is described, in part, as “the art crime of the century.” Instead, he allows the people who were involved in the event to offer their interpretations. In addition, Marsh generally avoids placing too much emphasis on the subsequent tragic legacy of the towers after 9/11, but as Hall notes, one shot of Petit walking between the two towers, with a jet immediately overhead, inevitably invokes such comparisons. Still, Marsh is capable of showing how Petit managed, through his “art crime” to humanize the towers at a moment when many New Yorkers saw the buildings as nothing more than “monoliths of capitalism.” In one brief moment, Petit’s crime gave the towers new life and a sense of whimsy, one that is brought back to life in this breathtaking film.

Green Cine has a few more reviews.

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