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Look out for more coverage of
Man on Wire in our magazines

THE MOVIE: Man on Wire

THE STARS:
Philippe Petit
DIRECTOR: James Marsh

Image: Jean Louis Blondeau / Polaris THE CONCEPT:
In 1974, Philippe Petit spent eight months in New York City planning to rig a wire, illegally, between the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. Aided by a team of friends and accomplices, Petit got past WTC security with the heavy steel wire, and at 7:15 a.m. on August 7th, he wire-walked for 45 minutes 1350 feet above the streets of Manhattan.

U.S. RELEASE: August 15 2008, Nationwide
• Rated: PG-13

THE COMMENTS:

The original walk. Image: Jean-Louis Blondeau / Polaris
JAMES MARSH:

James Marsh“The story itself was wonderful, and I loved and was captivated by it. The challenge was in a sense to tell it as well as possible. When I read Philippe’s book To Reach the Clouds, it read like a movie script and it had the kind of structure of a thriller, because that’s how it was. I thought, “It’s a thriller, it’s not really a documentary, it’s a heist film with this miraculous vision as the crime. The crime is beautiful and subversive and not destructive or harmful to anybody.”

PHILIPPE PETIT:
Philippe Petit“I’m not fearless at all. I have lots of fears but they are terrestrial fears not aerial fears. If I would ever feel on a high wire during a crossing that I could fall, I would fall. I never pronounce that word, that verb, falling. It’s not part of my vocabulary because it’s not part of my life. I have trained my body and my heart to walk, not to do the opposite of walking. What was going on in my mind [while I was on the wire between the Twin Towers] was a tempest, but a tempest of pleasure and a tempest of elation and a tempest of surprises.”

MARSH on doing research for the documentary:
“Philippe said he had these interesting cans of film negatives, beautifully shot color footage. The footage shows you some of the mechanics of the preparation but it also show the spirit of it.

PETIT:
“I caused this footage to be shot and I managed to preserve it for 34 years, and I opened my trunk of archives to James and I remember his giant smile! I decided at the very beginning of that adventure, when I was practicing in France, to make a film of the whole adventure, and it was stupid and naïve, because you cannot make a film about a bank robbery. I realized I’d have to abort the whole dream of making a film and have to concentrate on the dream of bringing the cable illegally and walking.”

MARSH:
“Every single person I interviewed, when they recalled the walk, they were visibly moved. There was a big investment in this and it was a very beautiful and amazing thing that they did and were seeing and they were a part of. They’d helped. They weren’t the most important part but they’d been part of it.”

PETIT on the fact that there isn’t any film of his walk:
“I was extremely frustrated that there were no moving images. I gave my friend a movie camera and at the moment he was going to change [from taking photos to filming] the police arrived so he hid. He ran to show his pictures to the world, and I thank him for that, but there was no film and at the time I was so distressed. I was furious about this slap from destiny. But now, years and years later, I’m so happy that there are no moving images and that allows the story to now be shown by a very talented director on the screen.”

MARSH:
“I have the same reaction at Philippe, the frustration that they were so close to getting them, the fact is there was a loaded [movie] camera. But I think had there been footage, it would have been probably very familiar and it may have diminished some of the mystery and the beauty of it, just because it’s so literal. The photographs are wonderful, they are frozen moments of perfection in time and so you embrace that and try and create the drama and the beauty of the walk by letting people just invest themselves in those images, and the wonder of that to me is still worth contemplating.”

PETIT on 9/11:
“What I thought the day the towers were destroyed does not belong to me talking about this documentary. First, because this is taken from my book, To Reach the Clouds, which doesn’t include the death of the towers, it includes the life of the towers. Secondly, because James, as a moviemaker, beautifully decided not to include the disaster that everybody knows, in the film that tells the glory, the story of two beautiful towers. But certainly you can imagine that I was very much distraught by the disappearance of what I used to call ‘my’ towers but today, of course, I will say ‘our’ towers.”

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

Visit the official Man on Wire site
Images above © Magnolia Pictures or Jean-Louis Blondeau / Polaris Images
Feature © 2008 Visual Imagination.
Not for reproduction.

Film Review, #699, August 2008 cover

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