Film review: Man on Wire

Man on Wire
2008
Wall to Wall

STARRING Phillippe Petit, Annie Allix, Paul McGill, David Roland Frank
WRITTEN BY Phillippe Petit
PRODUCED BY Simon Chinn
DIRECTED BY James Marsh

SHOT BY Igor Martinović
EDITED BY Jinx Godfrey
MUSIC BY J. Ralph, Michael Nyman
DISTRIBUTED BY Magnolia Pictures, Icon Productions, Diaphana Films

Screened 2008-08-04

If Man on Wire feels like a heist film, it’s because Philippe Petit is something of a criminal.  After being arrested by the NYPD for “trespassing” when he walked across a wire set between the Twin Towers in 1974, Petit purloined the arresting officer’s wallet – just because he could.  Then there’s the Ocean’s-style setup for his stunt, involving eight months of meticulous planning: studying blueprints, reconnaissance, creating fake IDs and even a ‘working replica’ of the roofs of the Towers for practice.  Petit was so admired for his incredible stunt that his ‘crimes’ became utterly smothered by the outpouring of affection and praise once the media got ahold of his story – opulently named ‘the artistic crime of the century’ – all charges dropped.  Excellent!  This situation elucidates why Petit’s story is so romantically appealing: follow your heart, even if it means defying the world, and the positive effects will bleed into everything around you.  Good thing he hadn’t fallen.

Wire is composed of a very generous amount of video footage and photography following Petit’s wirewalking progression over his life and video interviews with all the principles involved in helping Petit pull off this stunt.  Most subjects have the same thing to say: “My role was slight.  He was crazy.  It was incredible.”  Wire builds momentum as the narrative nears The Tower Job (my term, not theirs) – which is to say, Wire improves once Marsh gets to the nitty-gritty and stops taking up our time with o-la-la exposition and first-year film school dramatizations.  To his credit, however, Marsh demonstrated his appreciation for fellow British documentarian Peter Greenaway by borrowing some wonderful Michael Nyman themes – notably from The Draughtsman’s Contract and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover – and threw in some pretty Satie piano pieces for good measure.  Thanks, Marsh.  Man on Wire is Marsh’s 3rd film… and he’s coming along fairly well, it seems.  Wisconsin Death Trip was an intriguing, if directionless, docu and The King was a proficient enough drama.  Marsh can’t seem to avoid relying on heavy sentimentality, namely in his fictional recreations – this crime is unforgivable.  If, however, he keeps finding documentary subjects whose lives are grand anecdotes in the making, even those crimes can be smothered by positive word of mouth.

written by David Ashley

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