Sunday, September 21, 2008

Jason watches "Man on Wire"

In August of 1974, French tightrope walker and street performer Philippe Petit and a team of conspirators snuck into the newly finished (but not fully occupied) World Trade Center buildings, strung a wire between them, and he tightrope walked between the twin towers for over 45 minutes, making 8 crossings.  

If this documentary about his stunt was made and seen prior to 9/11...well, it might've looked exactly the same, but of course it wouldn't have had the same effect on the audience.  The filmmakers studiously avoid any mention of 9/11--someone emerging from a decade long coma who watches this movie might believe that his graffiti is still there and his lifetime guest pass to the observation deck is still worth something.  And I'm sure there's an interesting interview that could've been added--since Phillipe's life dream started with seeing a magazine picture of an artist's rendering of the twin towers (years before it was built), surely the loss of the towers affected him deeply.  

Post 9/11, watching a movie about people foiling the security at the WTC is a little weird.  Not creepy, it's actually pretty charming, evoking a more innocent time when people could laugh and applaud a scamp's ability to trick the authorities.  And he's charming enough, the interviews with his team are interesting enough, and the mix of reenactments and archive pictures are fascinating enough that eventually I mostly forgot about 9/11 and just enjoyed the movie (it also helped that some of the shots were amazing enough to trigger my slight acrophobia).

As I said, there are many ways this movie could've gone.  There could've been some focus on 9/11, and Philippe's reaction to it.  There could've been more about his sudden fame after the event (the DA agreed to drop all charges if he'd do a show for children--closer to street level).  But instead, the film keeps everything in a specific time and place, only drifting from the night of preparation and the morning of his walk enough to show his practice and earlier stunts (stringing a wire over Notre Dame and the Sydney bridge).  This tight focus keeps it in that "more innocent" time, leaves you with a clear impression of who this man is, and leaves enough out that an inspired viewer can go find out more about him.

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