On the morning of the 7th August 1974 a young Frenchman named Philippe Petit spent an hour coolly walking back and forth between the twin towers of the World Trade Center on a wire suspended 1350 feet above the ground.
It was a spectacle that made headlines around the world. It also took place without the knowledge or permission of the authorities, and led to criminal charges being filed against the young team who had carried it out.
James Marsh’s documentary Man on Wire follows the years of dreaming and months of preparation it took a group of friends to put this audacious scheme into action. Combining interviews with the key participants, archive footage and photographs and staged reconstructions, Man on Wire is a true story that unfolds with all the tension of a well-plotted heist movie.
We follow Petit and his associates as they stage earlier walks between the towers of Notre Dame cathedral and across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, before confronting the mind-boggling logistical difficulties presented by the twin towers crossing.
Before Petit can even step foot on the wire, the team has to work out how to smuggle themselves and their equipment into the World Trade Center undetected – and how to suspend a high-tension cable surreptitiously between two buildings 140 feet apart.
Man on Wire has been seen as an elegy to the twin towers, but it is also a stirring and often humorous adventure story. Petit himself is a remarkable raconteur and performer, recounting his story and at times physically acting it out with winning energy and charm. He professes surprise that the question everyone wanted to ask him afterwards was why he did it: ‘There is no why,’ he claims.
The archive footage of the event (accompanied by Michael Nyman’s powerful score) makes it clear that this was an act of great beauty as well as risk. Man on Wire is not only compelling but also surprisingly moving.
Review by Paul Vlitos
Man on Wire is showing at the Cameo, 38 Home Street, Edinburgh, from the 1st August 2008.