Saturday, September 27, 2008

Man On Wire (2008)

I wanted to see this when it first came out over a month ago, but my friend convinced me that it was not worth seeing in a theater because it was a documentary, and that it would translate just as well to a small screen. After watching the film recently, I would respectively disagree. There are some truly awe-inspiring shots in this movie that deserve to be seen on a big screen, or even a slightly big screen like the one I saw it on at the Dobie.

The film is about what some have called “the artistic crime of century,” a feat that occurred in 1974 that was so impressive and so grandiose that it's hard to imagine that it has become merely a footnote in history. Phillippe Petit, a French performance artist and tight-rope walker, masterminded an illegal invasion of the Twin Towers and, along with his team of devoted followers, orchestrated a daring high-wire routine stretching in between the towers, 1362 ft in the air.

Early on in the film, the audience learns of Phillippe's initial interest in the Twin Towers. Living in France, he read in magazines and newspapers about the construction of the buildings and knew from the illustrations in those publications that this feat was his ultimate dream. The movie wisely never brings up or even alludes to 9/11, but it does employ archival footage of the construction crews that built the towers laboring away day in and day out until it's completion.

For me, someone who is really in no way truly patriotic, it was still sort of disheartening to watch the expressions of anguish and joy on the worker's faces and to think that there's nothing left of their accomplishment. Being born at the end of the 70's, I really had know grasp of how long the towers actually existed, they had always been there my whole life, so I guess I just assumed that they were a lot older than they actually were. They stood for mere 30 years or so.

The documentary smartly plays like a caper film, treating the key figures less as talking heads and more like characters in a tangled plot of intrigue and suspense. Through the inter-cutting of reenactments of the break-in and actual archival footage of previous high-wire coups and subsequent planning, the films seamlessly builds tension in the audience, peeking their interest to such a degree that they cannot wait for the big payoff.

Phillippe is such an interesting personality in his older age that it's easy to see why someone would become infatuated with him and his daredevil tactics in his youth. Though thoroughly fascinating throughout, the film raises some logistical questions concerning the financing of these capers, but in the course of the narrative, I imagine any digression from the plot to explain such trivial details would seem somewhat random.

At any rate, it's hard to imagine that the story in “Man on Wire” is not better known. With the modest success of the documentary I wouldn't be surprised if it got made into some big budget feature film. As far as this movie is concerned, it's a nice piece of cinematic craftsmanship with a remarkable story and some lyric imagery thrown in.

“Man on Wire” screened at the Dobie.

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