Where This Meets That
A good documentary gives viewers a reason to look closer at something we otherwise might not. It draws us in to see something in a way we haven’t before.
I recently watched James Marsh’s 2008 Academy Award winning documentary Man on Wire and was spellbound. Twice.
The film recounts French high-wire artist Phillipe Petit’s legendary illegal 1974 high-wire performance between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
The film is amazing for many reasons, not the least of which is its exuberant subject, Petit. An apparent nutcase with an infectious determination to make fun of life, Petit found his life’s vision while perusing magazines in a dental waiting room in 1968. In one, he saw an architectural rendering of the soon-to-be-constructed twin towers and immediately envisioned himself on a high-wire between them. He ripped the page from the magazine and fled the dental office straightaway in pursuit of his dream.
The film documents the six years of planning and preparation that followed, including Petit’s warm-up performances at Notre Dame Cathedral in 1971 and Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1973. It features interviews with the individuals whom Petit recruited to make up his team, and the tale they weave spins into a caper full of espionage, intrigue, and unbridled nerve.
Even though the film keeps a light tone throughout avoids even a whisper of 9/11, it was difficult to look past Petit’s innocent “cloak and dagger” tactics without seeing the ironic parallels that undoubtedly went into the towers’ destruction years later. Just a reminder, I guess, of both the romance and repugnance we are capable of as a species.
Nevertheless, Man on Wire is, in itself, a delightful and charming way to spend 90 minutes one evening. I highly recommend it as one of Netflix’s hidden treasures.
Man on Wire score: 4.5 Falcone Rings!