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:: Man On Wire

1974 is a year that could be remembered for a few things: Richard Nixon resigned from office, West Germany won the World Soccer Cup, Turkey invaded Cyprus, and an unknown man from France, Philippe Petit, spent 45 minutes balancing on a thin steel wire, suspended between the two World Trade Centres, 1350ft in the air.

Man on Wire explores this legendary wire walk, with James Marsh (Director) taking the audience through the event that was dubbed the “artistic crime of the century.” And what an incredible feat it was – Philippe’s life literally hung in the balance that day, as did his freedom, with police ready to spring on the amazing acrobat as soon as he stepped off the wire and onto solid ground. But there was a greater force at work – and it soon becomes clear that nothing would have stopped Philippe from his life long ambition.

Through personal interviews with those who were involved in the ‘crime’, to dramatic reconstructions and real-life archival footage, Marsh has created a documentary that remains with the viewer for a long time afterwards. Its easy to see how a person like Philippe could have physically challenged himself in that way, his interviews reveal a man who can’t quite sit still, with big expressions and an energy that seems to radiate from his very person. It’s no wonder Philippe managed to acquire a band of followers to assist him in his endeavors; his idealism and energy are contagious.

With snapshots into his lesser-known achievements (the towers between Notre Dame in Paris and Sydney’s very own Harbour Bridge) the documentary reaches its final heights with the planning, preparation and execution of Philippe’s biggest undertaking – the Twin Towers. It was a passion-fueled, emotive journey, one that is never fully realized by the viewer until we see the breathtaking footage and still shots of Philippe standing in the centre of the two Towers, a lone figure walking it would seem, on thin air. The impact of this is felt even more so by the raw emotion of those who assisted Philippe, as well as the sense that, after reaching great heights, one can only come back down. More chapters were closed that day than the end of an adventure.

The fate of the Twin Towers is never touched on, instead we are presented with a beautiful documentary that shows us the tenacity of the human spirit, how fragile yet courageous we can be. And it represents the Twin Towers as they originally were – as structural works of art.

DVD Extras

  • Interview with Philippe Petit
  • Audio commentary by director James Marsh
  • Sydney Harbour Bridge Crossing - a short film by James Ricketson
  • Australian Teachers of Media Study Guide
  • Original theatrical trailer