Original release: January 22nd, 2008
Running time: 90 minutes
Director: James Marsh
Composer: Michael Nyman
Cast: Philippe Petit
“Life should be lived on the edge of life. You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge – and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope.” ~ Philippe Petit
There’s something we can all learn from a man like Philippe Petit. As we grow into adulthood we become all too quickly consumed by the rules set by everyone else. That part of ourselves that once made us curious little daredevils is replaced by submission; we no longer bark “no!” when told we can’t do something, we forget how to laugh in the face of danger and in doing so, we forget how it really feels to be alive.
Petit, who was born in France, was always climbing and no one could stop him, not his parents, not his teachers. It was just something he needed to do, to see the world from a different perspective. At the age of 16 he began wire walking. No one taught him how; he just did it on his own. He mastered the backward somersault, the front somersault, the unicycle, the bicycle, the chair on the wire and jumping through hoops, but he wanted bigger and more daring challenges.
Petit began to look to world famous structures around the world where he could perform his death-defying stunts. In 1971 he performed a high wire walk between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral. In 1973, he walked a wire rigged between two north pylons on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It wasn’t enough though, there was still something much bigger he wanted to conquer and the more impossible it seemed, the more he wanted to do it.
On August 7th, 1974, just a few days before his 25th birthday, Philippe accomplished what many would call the most astounding “artistic crime” of all time. At 7.15am he stepped off the roof of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, and at 1,362 ft feet in the air, he walked a high wire across to the North Tower. The stunt lasted 45 minutes and in that time he made eight crossings. He also sat on the wire, gave knee salutes and, while lying on the wire, spoke with a gull circling above his head.
Man On Wire documents this extraordinary feat with archive footage of Petit preparing for the walk and interviews. It also includes footage of the construction of the World Trade Center towers and although there is no footage of the walk itself – it only exists in still photos – the build-up to seeing them is very effective.
Along the way we learn much about this charismatic daredevil and what makes him tick. Petit speaks passionately about the moment he first saw a picture of what the World Trade Center towers would look like (at this point they hadn’t been built yet) and realised his dream. Petit worked with a team of friends and accomplices who helped make his dream real and we also get to hear from them in terms of what part they played and how it affected them. The dedication that went into making this dream a reality comes across very well in the narrative, making Man On Wire feel very much like a heist film with the detailed planning that was involved.
Thankfully, this is not a film that focuses on, or even mentions, the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. Instead, what we get is a film that looks back on a time before such madness, before the world changed and became what it is today. If a film that also reminds us that “impossible” is just a word and shouldn’t be a frame of mind… and that sometimes walking the wire is the only way to live life.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .