Sunday, February 22, 2009

Movie #40: Man on Wire

With the Oscars just a few hours away, it seems apropos to review Man on Wire, a film heavily favored to win for Best Documentary. The titular man in question is Philippe Petit, one of those rare personalities who people seem willing to gravitate towards even though he's arrogant, difficult and selfish. At the time Petit walked between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, he was 24-years-old. Now, 58, Petit's youthful exuberance is largely unchanged. He's truly the embodiment of an overgrown child as he recounts the meticulous planning (and good fortune) that went into pulling off one of the most breathtaking endeavors in performance art history.

While the dramatic recreations are standard fare for a contemporary documentary, the movie is priceless for the archival footage of Petit on the wire. While 9/11 is not mentioned or indirectly referenced, the odd beauty of a single man juxtaposing himself against the Towers gives a chilling gravitas to something that might otherwise have been dismissed as a cheap stunt. Petit, thankfully, is no David Blaine. Like all great art, what you see isn't as important as what you feel. Petit on the wire arouses a compelling mixture of fear, wonder, jealousy and tranquility. Conceptually, wire-walking is absurd. In action, with such great stakes, it's genius.

It may or may not be the best documentary of the year, but I'm certainly glad that a detailed account of this fascinating moment in history performed by a fascinating artist has been memorialized forever.

Grade: 8/10


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