Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Man on Wire

I've now seen this year's Oscar winner for Best Documentary, Man on Wire, and it was so intense I swear I got vertigo just sitting on my couch.

The film tells the story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit's attempt to walk on a cable strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center on Aug. 7 1974.

Director James Marsh blends old footage of Petit with current interviews in which he and his accomplices describe the years they spent planning the feat. Marsh also uses some re-creations that add to the drama, giving it a cloak-and-dagger feel.

Petit himself is such an engaging character, talking about his inspiration and why he does what he does. In 1974 he was a 24-year-old street performer in Paris: juggling, riding a unicycle, doing his high-wire act. I especially loved seeing him as a young man: red-haired, scrawny, kind of impish and incredibly determined.

But the documentary certainly doesn't give you the impression that he's a daredevil or foolhardy. Just the opposite. Petit takes great care with his wire walking and he's very meticulous in his preparations. We also see him walking between the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and across the towers of Notre Dame. He clearly knows what he's doing.

The film doesn't make any reference to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that brought down the twin towers, although you can't help but think of that day as you watch. In hindsight, it seems shocking that it was so easy for Petit and his friends to make their way inside the buildings with hundreds of pounds of equipment.

The most amazing scenes, though, are the ones where we just get to watch Petit in the air - holding a curved pole for balance, placing one foot carefully in front of the other, at times lying down on the cable, with nothing underneath him but the hard, unforgiving pavement.

It truly takes your breath away.


Margo said...

Wow. Looking at the picture made my stomach swoon. Would be interesting to see.

Esther said...

Yeah, the documentary definitely gives you the sense of being out there! This is one I wish I'd seen at the multiplex for the full effect. I'm sure I would have been really dizzy!