A Review of “Man on Wire”

CAPTION:  Yup, he actually did it…and lived to tell the tale.

The Best Laid Plans of Crazy Frenchmen…, 10 August 2008
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

…sometimes work as director James Marsh and subject Philippe Petit prove in the sublime and inspiring documentary, Man on Wire. Here we see Petit and his cohorts recklessly plan and execute the most daring stunt in the history of the world. In August of 1974, Petit walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in NYC.

As part of Hollywood’s increased awareness of the possibilities of counter-programming, summertime has become a haven for documentaries. Thanks to Michael Moore and Al Gore, most of the blockbuster documentaries over the past few years have been in the form of political propaganda. By simply wanting to tell the story of one man’s amazing act, Man on Wire breezes into this summer like a breath of fresh air. The act depicted is singularly focused, but the logistics behind perpetrating the act are fascinatingly complex, and the aftermath of the successful completion of the act is breathtaking.

Director Marsh wisely avoids the typical trappings of documentaries by filming the story like a fictional narrative, jumping back and forth in time, shifting points of view, and creating palpable tension leading up to the death defying act of Petit walking across the wire. The film relies heavily on reenactments, and Marsh stages them like mini expressionistic student films full of stunning cinematography and wonderfully antiquated in-camera effects. The careful juxtaposition and blending of archival footage, still photography, reenactments, and interviews is a master-class in the school of film editing. Also adding to the film is the quietly tense music score composed of pieces from Michael Nyman and Erik Satie among others.

For those who never saw the Twin Towers of the WTC in person, the film shows beautiful archival footage of their construction. For those still haunted by their fall, the film offers a bit of catharsis as we get to watch them reconstructed piece by piece on film and lifted again on high through Petit’s potently mad dream. The film is as much a love letter to New York City as it is a testament to the power of one person’s vision. The film allows us to see how Petit did it, but it also gives a glimpse of the greater “why?” For beauty, for the thrill…for the sad knowledge that no one in the history of the world will ever be able to do it again.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:


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4 comments on “A Review of “Man on Wire”

  1. ubatv says:

    UBATV.com is calling for short film and documentaries entries. UBATV.com is hosting a year long online film festival called Hotdocs and Short Stacks. We will be excepting films with a duration of 2 to 20 minutes from 7-18-08 to 7-17-09. Hot Doc and Short Stack will show case the best document and short narrative picked by industry professional annalist. Each week UBATV will be posting new documentaries and narratives films for everyone to enjoy. If you would like to submit your film please contact Rubin@ UBATV.com for an application and more information visit Submissions@UBATV.com. This is a simple uncomplicated way to get your work seen and to get a prize spot on your resume.

  2. jamesewan says:

    Hi David,
    Enjoying your blog.
    Good review of Man On Wire, one of my favourite films of the year so far. For me this decade should be remember most, film-wise, for the quality of documentaries made. Man On Wire approaches it’s subject with such dynamism and vitality it is impressive considering how little footage they had of the actual event. I’m filing it next to ’Fog of War‘, ‘Capturing the Friedmans‘, ‘Touching the Void‘, ‘Etre et Avoir‘, and ‘Grizzly Man‘. Fantastic.

    James, thanks, I’ll be checking out your blog as well. I would also add Control Room to that list of great documentaries since 2000. –DHS

  3. trishutchinson says:

    Hey David, thanks for your comment on my blog. I read the book about 7 years ago, completely taken in by the style of the writing and the event itself, unaware of how much had gone into it!! totally read like a thriller……unsure of what has happened to Petit inbetween.

    really liking your blog, keep it up and best of luck till the next time.


    Tris, thanks for stopping by. I might have to check the book out. I guess there is no way Petit could ever top what he did in 1974, but it would be interesting to see what he’s been up to besides writing the book and taking part in the film. –DHS

  4. jamesewan says:

    Don’t know Control Room, thanks I’ll check it out.

    James, Control Room is about the AlJazeera news channel and looks at media propoganda and news reporting in general. It came out the same year as Fahrenheit 9/11 and was greatly overshadowed, but is clearly a more studious and unbiased look at some related events/topics. –DHS

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