Man on Wire
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD from Magnolia Home Entertainment.
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Man on Wire is at once a film about performance art, a heist movie, and a love story about a man and the space between two towers. The film is perfectly timed, for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center are still fresh in our minds, but they are not so fresh that we cannot appreciate the beauty of Philippe Petit’s incredible performance on August 7th, 1974. On that day, Petit, a young French performance artist and high-wire walker, danced on a cable between the roofs of the twin towers for almost an hour.
Director James Marsh shows the construction of the towers through vintage footage, paralleling the coming realization of Petit’s dream, as he prepares with performances between the steeples of Notre Dame and high above the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia. Marsh was fortunate that Petit’s friends filmed not only the performances, but every step along the road to their executions. Their preparations were intricate, with diagrams, models and fake IDs, like a great heist, the prize of which is not money or jewels but a unique and grand work of art.
Man on Wire is a dynamic and beautiful piece. I foresee many awards going out to Man on Wire in the coming award season. It won the Jury Prize and Audience Award for World Documentary at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, and is currently the #1 reviewed film according to Rotten Tomatoes, with over 140 reviews that are 100% positive.
The DVD release of Man on Wire includes three special features that are all actually worthwhile. First is a 20-minute documentary that focuses on Petit’s crossing of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, one year before the World Trade Center performance. One of my favorite bits in this film is the footage of Petit performing at the circus, where he traverses his high-wire blindfolded, over a group of snarling lions. The second special feature is a post-Man on Wire interview with Petit, in which he discusses high-wire walking as an art form and his reaction to Marsh’s documentary. Last is an animated short based on the Scholastic book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal. At 10 minutes and without the brief nudity and drug use in Marsh’s film, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers is great for introducing children to Petit’s amazing story.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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