Sunday, September 7, 2008
Man on Wire (2008)
I just got home from a screening of this documentary.
here are my notes.
Walk the Line
In 1974, a French wirewalker, Philippe Petit, pulled off not only the improbable but also the unthinkable: tightroping across the Twin Towers. Without a net or safety clip. At first blush, the appeal of Man on Wire seems roughly similar to that of an Evel Knievel canyon jump or a Jackass stunt. Yet as Man on Wire unfolds, the deeper fascination comes from watching Petit and his team of merry pranksters smuggle themselves and their gear into the heavily policed World Trade Center. To be sure, the final wirewalking scene delivers, but how the team managed to escape capture as they made for the roof stills seems one-in-a-million.
Man on Wire is rightly considered an instant classic and it will almost surely be nominated for best documentary this year. The film's strongest choice, however, comes in its unironic and decidedly poignant approach to the subject of high wire artistry. What's more, the film's gift for storytelling is best seen in a split-screen montage that shows Petit and the WTC both coming of age together, both simultaneously being built into towering figures.
Documentary purists might bristle at Man on Wire’s use of dramatic reenactment, but most everyone else will be awed by the emotional verisimilitude of each frame, the somber score, the dreamy black and white prints, and the elevation of daredevilry into the sublime. The film also invites a discussion on wish fulfillment and the fine line (literally) between willpower and hubris. Of course, the early 70’s photographs and archival footage of the Twin Towers radiate with a deeper significance given the events of 9/11. The fact that the film never once alludes to their eventual evisceration is a textbook example of how to say it best by saying nothing at all.
(Click here to watch the film's trailer.)