Film review: Man on Wire

As soon as I finished this watching this film on DVD last night, I had to jump on the computer to record my immediate thoughts!

Man on Wire‘ is a dramatised documentary about Philippe Petit‘s amazing stunt in the 1970s where he walked a tightrope between the two buildings of the World Trade Centre.   I was feeling a bit sleepy when I started to watch it and wasn’t sure whether I could make it through a film.  Well, I literally sat bolt upright throughout with my eyes wide open!

It is just utterly extraordinary.  The feat itself is almost unbelieveable.  I knew, vaguely, that someone had done this and I’m sure the first time I heard about it I must have been amazed but since then it had really dropped from my consciousness, and I probably could barely have told you whether it was real or not.   However, after Mr Woodsmoke loved the film ‘Project Nim‘ (which I blogged about the week that I started blogging!) I went looking for something else by the same director (James Marsh) and found that he’d made this documentary.

What I didn’t realise at all until we started the film was just how big an endeavour it was for a team of people to illicitly take a load of equipment up to the top of both buildings of the World Trade Centre in order to set up a tightrope between them.  It was two hundred metres between the two towers. They sent over the guide wire with a bow and arrow.   they had a ton of gear to transport.  It’s almost enough to make you believe that there’s some conspiracy that they’re not telling you about, because it seems so unlikely.  A bunch of guys got into the WTC with fake IDs, persuaded the goods lift attendant to take them up over 100 floors when the highest inhabited floor was the 82nd, and hid out under a tarpaulin until the guards had gone home!  It’s like an adventure novel.  Clearly WTC security was not all that hot in the 70s!

I think one of the reasons I was so grabbed during the film was the vicarious adrenaline of watching the tightrope walking (there was what I think is real footage of his previous walks on Notre Dame and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, although there are only stills of the WTC walk).  I can barely go up 10 feet without vertigo so it all seems absolutely horrific.  But Philippe Petit sounds like he doesn’t have a care in the world and was lying down and doing tricks on the WTC wire, 450m in the air!

The film itself is a mixture of interviews and reconstructions (a bit like Touching the Void) along with some real footage from the time.  I found it less confusing than Project Nim, where there was more real footage available and I was frustrated by sometimes being unsure what was real and what was reconstruction. I’m conflicted about documentaries that do blur the lines between real and reconstructed – the technique feels a bit dishonest, however effective it is.  But in this case, it was mostly the case that the people involved told their stories to camera and then they were acted out – not too bad.

I couldn’t recommend the film highly enough.  It was just mindblowing.  I’m off to watch all the special features and commentaries now!  I may have to watch the film a few times before I can bring myself to believe any of it.  What a story!

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One Response to Film review: Man on Wire

  1. Just watched the commentary and there was way less reconstructed footage than I thought – they were really lucky with the archive footage!

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