Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"man on wire" movie review

"exhilarating" is precisely the word for "man on wire!" i missed the limited run it had at the tribeca film festival but finally got to see this film at the film forum on monday afternoon. i had a some time to before class began at 6, so i was able to catch the 1:20 show (the theatre is just 2 train stops from my office). i left my office after a noon appointment and made it with time to spare. one huge, non-film, benefit was the discovery of a whole food beer room on houston street (but that's a separate story).

i had a vague recollection of this stunt breathlessly reported on the t.v. news as a kid in the summer of 1974. but aside from a blurry memory of "someone walking across the twin towers on tightrope," i had no real idea of the scope of phillipe petit's stunning accomplishment. to observe that a stunt of this magnitude could not conceivably take place in today's post-9/11 nyc (if comparable replacements to the towers themselves could be found) only magnifies the "once in a lifetime" aspect of the event. even the police officers who took petit into custody when he came off the wire were in awe of what they had witnessed.

the documentary is a blend of present-day interviews with petit and his (at the time) close-knit group of enablers. the sheer length of time it took to plan, practice and actually execute the walk is remarkable. petit constructed a mock-up space, complete down to the towers' exact dimensions, in france. in addition to the daily practice of walking the rope, we are shown the elaborate plans he and his friends undertook (including how they expected to smuggle the cable and related supplies into the towers, the multiple trips to the towers to photograph and map the location, and the precise role each member of the team would play).

even with that background, watching them spend the entire night to string up the cable, and at one point even doubting if the job could be finished by daybreak, was utterly fascinating. the panoramic views (still photos taken by the participants mixed with archival film footage of the tower being constructed and nyc in the early 70's) were captivating. and, finally, the act itself - petit spent over 40 minutes on that wire, going back and forth between the towers 8 times! - was spellbinding. there really aren't enough adjectives to do justice.

the post-wire finish was, predictably, anti-climatic (and, it terms of the film, rushed and seemingly tacked on as an afterthought). the post-event highlight are (a) the police taking him to the hospital for psychiatric observation (he got a clean bill), or (b) the groupie he stumbled upon following his release. she immediately took him back to her apartment for sex (and his sheepish explanations afterwards to his girlfriend were just plain sad), or (c) the d.a.'s slap on the wrist (he was filmed juggling in front of children, as community service) while his australian friend was deported and banned from the u.s. for life!

this is a must see documentary! it's short (only 90 minutes) - but it truly captures that "once in a lifetime" aspect of what took place. the film faded out with petit - in the present day - on a tightrope in the practice field he had set up in france, oh so many years ago.


pat finally got a chance to see this great film on friday night (12 september) and then stayed for the question and answer session afterwards with co-producer maureen a. ryan. she went to see man on wire in pelham, a few towns over from where we live, in somewhat of a rariety these days - a one screen movie theatre!


Pam said...

You truly have the most eclectic collection of interests. One of these days we need to tip a cocktail together instead of lacing up shoes. :)

Go Annie said...

rd, i have the children's book "the man who walked between the towers" and it's a great story. it won the 2004 caldecott medal. my kids love it! i'll have to check out the documentary.

rob said...

Enough running all day, I want a sport that has groupies.

rundangerously said...

pam, do i hear sounds of martini glasses clinking in the background :D

annie, this documentary plays like a "caper" film - a lot of fun.

rob, that groupie scene came right out of left field - or as french might say, rive gauche :D

CTmarathoner said...

this film was just amazing. When Phillipe finally tight-roped across the twin towers in 1974, it was lost on me as I was a high schooler...the story was extraordinary!! How they got all that equipment up and put the cable up with guard looking made for such a story. The stills of him lying down between the towers that are no longer --just the scenes of the towers is enough to see the movie!!The people, the stills, the groupie scene:)--I really enjoyed this movie and thank you for telling me about it!