Man On Wire
Dir. James Marsh, 2008, UK/USA, (12), 94 mins.
Philippe Petit, Jean Francois Heckel, Jean-Lois Blondeau. Annie Allix.
Early on an August morning in 1974, Philippe Petit, a French street performer and wire-walker focused the attention of New Yorkers as he crossed back and forth on a high wire strung 1350 feet up between the rooftops of the Twin Towers. Using contemporary interviews, archival footage and dramatic reconstructions the film tells the story of the clandestine planning and execution of this stunning illegal exploit, highlights of Petit’s wire-walking career, and the personal and practical fallout of the New York stunt.
Before Man on Wire, Marsh was connected with darker films including The King (2005) and Wisconsin Death Trip (1999), so the Director’s extraordinary Oscar-winning film is a surprise. It crackles with the tension surrounding the event and fixes on celluloid the personality of a man so driven to commit what became known as the artistic crime of the century that he sacrificed camaraderie, love and freedom in the process. In fact, Marsh later commented, ‘the film’s a great celebration of friendship, but what they achieved together undermined their relationships’. The splicing of actual and restaged footage gives the feel of a thriller and the interviews of accomplices and Petit himself build a riveting picture that engrosses from the start. Unexpectedly Man on Wire delivers a further jolt as we see what we think are familiar images of the Twin Towers post 9/11, and come to realise the footage is of the construction of the World Trade Centre, which drives home what the film chooses to leave implicit, that when Petit fulfilled his ambition the world was a different place.
What the critics said
‘Marsh establishes a pleasingly playful mood that perfectly mirrors Petit's cheekily irreverent manner. It's a mood requiring a light touch that is deceptively difficult for most filmmakers to achieve.’ Chris Barsanti, Filmcritic.com
‘It's a terrific story about courage, obsession and friendship, cleverly and economically told, and a bit of a trial for acrophobes.’ Philip French, The Observer.
‘It's a magical fairy tale of a documentary.’ Sukhdev Sandu, The Daily Telegraph.
28 major awards including
2009, Academy Awards, Oscar: Best Documentary
2009, BAFTA, Outstanding British Film
2008, National Board of Review USA, Best Documentary
2008, Sundance Film Festival, Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary; Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema Documentary.