Sunday, January 04, 2009

Man on Wire

Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008) [7]

Man on Wire has everything needed to make an entertaining documentary: an eccentric central character, a dazzling achievement that is rife with issues that could derail it, and an execution that heightens the tension and wonder of the event. Philippe Petit's achievement, tightrope walking across the two towers of the World Trade center in 1974, was an amazing accomplishment and something that recent events have made it resonate even more. Where the film succeeds is giving an in-depth analysis of how and why Petit did what he did. The behind the scenes action leading up to the event are just as interesting and filled with tension as the actual walk. It certainly helps that Petit explains everything with an impish enthusiasm that can't help but come through to the viewer. It's an awe-inspiring achievement and something for which a film should capture to explain for history's sake. It's that sheer interest in Petit and why he did what he did that hide a few formal flaws in the film. The re-enactments of certain scenes never really integrate fully into the archival footage of the film; they feel too much like set pieces, scenes that stick out too much from the rest. Marsh gives us plenty of reasons why Petit walked between the towers and some how but not the main 'how': where does Petit get the time and money to be able to accomplish the feat? The very idea of it is never mentioned and the glossing over of the entire subject raises more questions than any other aspect of it. It's creates this notion that there's something of Petit's character that he is shielding from the film. All we ever get of his background is he's a street acrobat/magician. By leaving this information out, it feels like Marsh and Petit don't want us to know something that would tarnish this accomplishment. But it's the spectre of this accomplishment that make Man on Wire a film that is difficult not to be engrossed by.

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