I’ve always been attracted to dreamers, pranksters, rascals, radicals, oddballs, innovators, hoaxers, romantics, thrill seekers and people willing to ignore or bend the law to accomplish their aspirations. Man On Wire tells the story of such a group (who are a lot of the items just listed) who plot, plan and then do what they set out to do—string up a 200 foot wire between the World Trade Center’s twin towers to perform a wire walk in August of 1974. Madness? I think not!
The man who actually steps out onto the wire is an engaging, charismatic Frenchman named Phillipe Petit and this story of how this small band of French, Australian and American misfits pulled off this feat is one of my favorite documentaries I’ve seen recently. When Petit actually steps out onto that wire, with no safety harness or cables to save him if he missteps, is one of the most amazing and electrifying things I’ve watched in a while. My heart skipped a beat I was so in love with the idea of it.
Man On Wire combines films the crew made of the training and preparation, recreations of the pre-event (the smuggling in of nearly one ton of equipment the night of the walk for example), archival footage of the WTC being built, films of other wire walks by Petit (the Notre Dame in Paris and a bridge crossing in Australia were small time warm ups compared to the towers walk) and interviews with all the folks involved who were all in their mid 20s when the event occurred. The interviews are lively, passionate, honest, humorous as the people all bare their souls in what they realize was the “once in a lifetime” aspect of the act. A few times people break down they are so overcome with emotions at what they did or witnessed on this 1974 morning.
Petit is an engaging, quasi-philosophical romantic who stepped onto the wire and walked it (or “danced” on it according to the NYC cops who were on the 100+ floor rooftop) for over forty five minutes performing his act of kneeling, laying down and turns—he does eight complete walks of the wire while up there. It’s truly breathtaking thing to watch. To see Petit on the wire and then looking down at what is below him makes this act completely unbelievable to me.
It’s hard to watch the film without grappling with the future events of what would happen to the WTC but that actually makes the wire walk even more interesting. The building wasn’t even completely finished when the group performed their wire walk and seeing Petit speak of the structure with such reverence, as if it was built for his wire and his wire only, kind of makes you think of the towers as something other than that of jets, fires, death, terrorism and collapse.
Man On Wire is a stunner. It’s a mesmerizing and beautiful film. I had goosebumps and the sight of Petit on that wire filled my eyes with tears of joy. Magical. It’s about the possibility of dreamers and of the burning youthful desire to do something no one dares. It’s about looking death square in the face while living in the moment of your dream no matter how preposterous and dangerous it might seem to others. Highly recommended!