US Release Date: 07-25-2008
Directed by: James Marsh
- Philippe Petit, as
- Annie Allix, as
- Jean-Louis Blondeau, as
- David Forman, as
- Barry Greenhouse, as
- Jean Francois Heckel, as
- Jim Moore, as
- Joel Ney, as
- 1970s Police Officer #1
- Alan Welner as
You can call him crazy, but you also have to admire his guts.
Man on Wire is the Oscar nominated documentary that details the true story of how Phillipe Petit, with the help of a group of friends, strung a wire up between the tops of the two towers of the World Trade Center and tight-rope walked back and forth between them for forty-five minutes in 1974. He claims that he did it for no concrete reason, but it seems as if it was for that old adage, because it was there. Whatever the reason or lack thereof, the act was awe inspiring and now with the fall of the towers, carries a trace of poignancy about it.
Phillipe is someone I probably wouldn't get along with if I met him in real life, but he's the sort of person who brings color to life. He's artistic and flamboyant and you can tell that he enjoys being the center of attention. The walk between the towers wasn't his first unusual or public walk. He'd earlier walked between the towers on the Notre Dame Cathedral and across a bridge near Sydney Harbor. Nothing he'd done earlier though would compare to the Trade Center walk in audacity or in the amount of planning that would be necessary to accomplish it.
The story of his walk is told by Phillipe and the others involved and features quite a bit of actual footage and photographs from the era. It also reenacts several key scenes that for obvious reasons couldn't have been filmed at the time, like when Phillipe and an associate are hiding from guards inside the tower on the night they make their ascent. The reenacted scenes are very well done and at times are hard to tell from the real ones.
Although the pay off of the movie is when Phillipe actually does the walk, the build up to that moment is very entertaining and amusing at times. Phillipe and his friends used a variety of means to infilitrate the towers which weren't at that time completely finished. The exterior and the structure was done, but the upper floors were unfinished. They posed as reporters, they made friends with an employee in the building and made copies of his id so that they could come and go more easily.
Of course what you're waiting for is the big moment when Phillipe actually steps onto that wire 1,350 feet above the pavement. The towers were 200 feet apart and as tall buildings do, they swayed in the wind. Yet seemingly without fear, Phillipe walked, knelt, and at one point even laid down on the wire. As he said, "If I die, what a beautiful death!" You can call him crazy, but you also have to admire his guts.
One of the arresting officers said in an interview at the time, "I knew that I was seeing something that no one would ever see again." Watching this movie now you're likely to feel the same way.
A spectacular feat of life as art!
Philippe Petit’s daring feat is the most incredible example of fearlessness and audacity (not to mention balance) that I have ever witnessed. As Scott wrote, he didn’t merely walk once across the 200 feet of wire strung 1,350 feet in the air between the World Trade Center towers; although that would have been amazing enough in itself. No this guy made 8 trips back and forth for 45 minutes while evading several police officers sent to arrest him but who didn’t dare step out on the wire after Philippe.
The movie itself is a decent enough retelling of the events leading up to that day on August 7, 1974 (27 years and 1 month before the 2001 terrorist attacks that brought the towers down). It is paced quickly enough and all of the major players involved give interviews, some of which are subtitled in French (France being Petit’s native country).
One of Petit’s accomplices states at one point that one of the things that appealed to him about the project was the fact that it wasn’t, “evil or mean but was still illegal and therefore cool.” You could call them terrorists for art. At any rate they accomplished something spectacularly beautiful and awe inspiring that day.
What was it about the twin towers that so captured the world’s imagination? Petit tells how his life was changed when he first read about the towers (years before they were even built) in a magazine while in a doctor’s office waiting room. He became obsessed with the idea of tightrope walking between them. We all know how symbolic the towers were to Islamist extremists in their jihad against the Western world. These two impressive structures inspired both great art and pure evil in their scant 3 decade existence.
My one disappointment with the movie is that there isn’t more film footage of the actual tightrope walking. Most of the images from that day are still photographs. And while they do capture the grandeur of the event, after learning about the planning and watching the build-up to the event itself, it is a letdown not to be able to watch more of Petit’s incredible feat of daring do.
Man on Wire tells the incredible true story of one man’s quest for his art.
What some people will do for attention.
Philippe Petit is a unique person. At the age of 16 he took to tight rope walking like modern teenagers take to video games. He also practiced fencing, juggling and other such activity. Philippe Petit was a self motivated individual. Although these activities, and the fact that he was expelled from five different schools, may lead us to think his youth was a lonely one, he attracted some friends and a girlfriend. These people would later help him in his walk between the towers. The film captures him describing his act. He is very animated, and one can see how his wide eyed approach to life could attract people to him.
Philippe Petit is a mere 5' 7" yet he became larger than life due to his daring act and his flamboyant personality. "I danced at the top of the world." he says in describing the walk between the towers. In discussing the risk he says, "If I die, what a beautiful death!" His motto that, "Life should be lived on the edge of life." Is something he takes seriously. He walked the walk and talked the talk.
After the walk on the wire and arrest, Philippe Petit became briefly very famous. He describes a sexual encounter with a woman who threw herself at him soon afterwards. He speaks of his betrayal to his friends. Whereas he was once a loner working on his craft by his rules, he now became a celebrity whore enjoying the attention. Part of his sentencing for trespassing was to merely perform some juggling act for children in Central Park. He instead set up and performed on a tight rope across Turtle pond.
He never regained the same attention he earned on that summer day in 1974. He tried, with such acts as walking across Niagara Falls. The closest he came was with the making, release and reception of this film. He seems very eager to talk about it and relive every moment. As his girlfriend says in the movie, the walk between the towers changed them all, and they broke up right afterwards.
Like Patrick, I too was disappointed that the actual act was not caught on film. According to WIKI, a camera was brought but the man intended to film it was too tired to do it. I disagree with Patrick however, that his act is "art." It was brave and self serving but not artistic. Art is the creation of something tangible. If his walking on wire is art then Evel Knievel is a master artist. What Philippe Petit did was insane and amazing, but not art.
Photos © Copyright Magnolia Pictures (2008)