Wednesday, 24 February 2010

It's Impossible, That's Sure. So Let's Start Working.

There is not a great deal that can be said about Man On Wire after looking at its awards page on Oscar, BAFTA, BIFA, BFCAA, Independent Spirit, LAFCAA, NBR, NYFCCA, OFCSA, PGA, 2 x Sundance and Toronto, just some of the wins. Plenty more nominations. That's a lot of wins, a broad spectrum of critics, audiences and industry recognition around the world.

Holy. Gemini. That is a long way up without a harness.

Man On Wire is a documentary about 'the artistic crime of the century', the build-up to and the happenings of Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the tops of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York in 1974, not long after their completion. Combining archive footage, dramatic reenactments and talking heads, the film goes through Petit's youth, his discovery of tightrope walking, hit previous conquests (including between the towers of Notre Dame and two pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge), the immense amount of planning to get into the twin towers in the first place, and then to rig the wires and actually achieve what he had to achieve. An incredible clandestine operation that could have fallen apart at any one of a hundred points in the build up to his early morning walk, the film demonstrates the tenacity not only of Petit, but of all who worked on the project. Keeping in mind that the achievement was completely illegal, that there was no permission involved, and that all of the equipment had to be taken to the roof of these towers, strung up under cover of darkness in a day before mobiles and email, with guards constantly on the loose, and all of this happening, what, 500 metres in the air?

Most documentaries that seem to get this kind of acclaim tend to be a little dour, they don't tend to be uplifting explorations of incredible achievement. Of course, they are out there, but generally I think it is harder to make a compelling film out of something light than it is out of something tragic. How do you get someone emotionally involved in something that a few people did that doesn't involve you feeling terribly sorry for them? Spellbound did it for me, trapping me in with the competition element. What Man On Wire has is the fact that it was illegal, and so horrifyingly dangerous. Nothing compares to watching the footage of Petit on the wire between these two iconic towers, so memorably and tragically destroyed so recently.

Director James Marsh does a tremendous job of working a reasonably tough assignment into a brilliant documentary. He was lucky, I guess, that the crew shot a whole lot of behind the scenes film footage in the lead up, giving him plenty of material to work with, and that the whole even was such huge news globally, giving him news footage and innumerable headlines to work with. But full credit to him and editor Jinx Godfrey for putting together so taught, so thrilling, so engaging. A definite 5 star must see.


  1. I only watched this a couple of days ago and I actually found it really boring. I dunno - just didn't get me.

  2. Boring? Wow. My heart was skipping beats.