"Man on Wire": An Extraordinary Guy By Gábor Böszörményi

in 10th Motovun International Film Festival

by Gábor Böszörményi

There are a few people who would risk their lives to conquer nature, climb the highest mountains and discover the direst jungles. And there are really few people who would risk their lives to conquer the peaks of the man-built world — the cities. Spider men climb up skyscrapers (for instance a few months ago plans were announced to change the facade of the New York Times’ headquarters because of two men doing that) and wire walkers sometimes choose the weirdest spots to stretch their ropes. Probably these strange people search for the very same thing, apart from fulfilling a challenge: the hidden beauty of the world, which can only be seen by those, who know no fear. One of the greatest values of James Marsh’s film Man on Wire is that it allows us, men of the street to peep into some of these sceneries.

Philippe Petit is an extraordinary guy, even among the wire walkers. One night, at the age of 24, he managed to stretch his wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center, at the height of more than 400 meters, and in the morning he spent 45 minutes in the sky walking, dancing and saluting the city. Being an exhibitionist, his preparations were quite well documented, such as the performance itself of course. These archive materials and the interviews with Petit and his assistance — now in their late fifties, early sixties — are the main core of the film, these give its unique value. Not only the more than thirty years old footages, but also the voice, the face, the gestures of these middle aged people get us closer to understand those once young men defying authority in a way which liberates not only them but everyone who sees that man on wire. The police was unable to bring Petit back from the wire for quite a long time — they did not have too much instrument to do so as none of them wanted to follow him. But even those, policemen doing their job, trying to keep up the order and apply the law were not left untouched by this remarkable act: answering the question of the media that morning, one of the flabbergasted law-enforcers admits that seeing Petit up there was something beyond imagination.

And here comes the third element of the film: we don’t only see archive footages and interviews, but Marsh re-enacted on film the events of the night when Petit and his friends dodged the guards of the towers and managed to get to the top with all their gear and stretched the wire. These parts of the films are not interesting in a visual way at all; they are worth talking about because of their impact on the narrative. The black and white re-enactments make Man on Wire seem like a heist movie. These men are committing a crime (at least by the letter of the law) and their target is the WTC. Luckily, no one says anything about 9/11, but the tension is there all the way. It seems life sometimes works like the movies — there is a rule in the heist genre that the robbers manage to get the swag, but at the end of the day they fail. Petit and Co. carried through their act but they broke up afterwards. Successes made him cheat on his love and betray his friends; maybe there was no other way. They were on the top of the world — couldn’t climb higher.