Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Man on Wire

Man on Wire, a documentary about French tightrope walker Philippe Petit, is not for acrophobics. But if you can bear to watch as Petit traverses the open air between cathedral domes and bridge supports and -- in the dramatic climax of the movie and Petit’s life -- the towers of the World Trade Center in New York, you should.

The film keeps a tight focus as it dramatizes the time leading up to the Twin Towers walk, which occurred in 1974, when Petit was 24 years old. There are wonderful home movies of an even younger Petit and friends frolicking in French fields and practicing on a wire, but the narrative doesn’t treat him as a full biographical subject. I had to go back to a 1999 profile of Petit in The New Yorker to learn that he was “an absurdly rebellious middle child in a bourgeois family,” whose father, a French Army pilot, was not thrilled to have a son interested in, to name a few, “magic, juggling, classical equitation, fencing, theatre, drawing, bullfighting.”

But while there isn’t a lot of background in the movie, there’s a lot of Petit, in the current day, describing his exploits in a charming, gesticulating manner. And there’s the gripping story of how someone, even in less security-obsessed times, could have pulled off such a spectacle. To its credit, the documentary never mentions the eventual fate of the towers (though there is a cheesy cartoon graphic of an airplane that pops up to show when Petit had traveled from Europe to America and back, which is unnerving and unnecessary), but of course the story is haunted by it. And I couldn’t help but feel that Petit’s conquest was the perfect contrast to what happened almost seven years ago. Here was someone from another culture, with his sights set on a particular symbol of grandeur, hellbent on committing a crime, obsessively questing to accomplish something that represented his life’s purpose. But what he did was brave and beautiful and disciplined, meant to inspire and bring joy. His sudden appearance in the sky that morning was an opposite argument for how to unleash human desire, a rebuke 27 years early.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Hellbent on committing a crime..."

Yeah, right.

I'm sure the first thing in the dude's mind was, "Hey, I'm going to commit felony burglary and felony breaking and entering!!! Cool!!!!"

Give me a fucking break.

Funny how there is absolutely no mention of this in the film.

Quit putting thoughts and intentions into people's heads and misrepresenting and just out and out lying.

4:03 PM  
Blogger megbon said...

I just posted something about this on Pajiba, but you should check out "The Man Who Walked Between the Towers," which is a kids book. It takes the story and puts it in the context of 9/11 and it's really lovely.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeez Anon, chill the fuck out. I'm pretty sure all JMW meant was that Petit was hellbent on doing something that was, essentially, against the law. Not that he was thinking HELL YEAH I'M GONNA BREAK ME SOME LAWS.

6:32 PM  
Blogger amy lineburg said...

"...a rebuke 27 years early." Beautiful, and amen.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

for me, man on wire, is a great example of a deal-breaker movie. as in, if you didn't like it/get it/weep, then i'm not sure we can be friends anymore.

3:28 PM  

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