Thursday, January 1, 2009

Man on Wire Balances the Obsession with Artistry and NYC

Perhaps the best film I've seen on the obsession and sometimes madness required to follow one's dream, Man on Wire artfully explores Philippe Petit's quarter-mile high walk between the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in 1974. It is also a love letter to New York City.

Petit began dreaming of stringing a wire between the world's tallest buildings upon reading an article on their construction in a dentist's waiting room. He built some notoriety in the time it took for the Towers to be built by performing high-above balancing acts in notorious locations like Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But upon completion, the Towers were a quarter of a mile high, hundreds of feet apart, built to sway in the wind. It was impossible, ludicrous to think of such a feat. Certain death.

Still, Petit and his cohorts schemed and planned the perfect caper. The film amusingly captures the process of how, amid strict security and impossible odds, a wire could be strung from one tower to another. Petit's love of mischief and sheer chutzpah has him disguised as construction worker, tourist, and even journalist in order to gather the necessary information for the stunt. Even knowing the outcome, the personal accounts and sublime editing leave you on the edge of your seat. When Petit finally steps out on that fateful wire, there is awe. Not only from the great physical achievement, but in witnessing the realization of a persistent and agonizing dream.

Less overtly, Man on Wire lovingly explores New York City and just how this city can get under your skin. The shear lust for the place can drive anyone to madness, as the Towers arguably did to Petit. And while left unsaid, the knowledge that the site of Petit's masterpiece no longer stands adds a gentle poignancy.

For anyone whose life-long dream of this city sweetly haunts and torments them, Man on Wire dares us to believe that following such fancy is as magically possible as walking on thin air.

1 comment:

Terry B said...

It's funny, but even as New York-obsessed as I am, "Man on Wire" hadn't shown up on my radar screen as something to see. Until now, that is. Thanks for the great post and the heads up on the film.