Man on Wire – the Movie

In the morning of August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit, a French high-wire acrobat, stepped out into the void between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York on a cable. In the 45 minutes that followed, he stayed out on the wire, traversing it eight times, dancing, laying down, standing up, while police watched from both towers, and the public stared up in disbelief.

This is a documentary on Philippe’s life leading up to this. He was possessed by the towers before they were even built. He had to visit New York several times to plan the incredible feat. Just imagine what it takes to string a steel cable stretching 200 feet between two 1,350 foot buildings without being detected and anchoring it on both sides.

And then stepping out. Of course, for a high-wire artist, whether the wire is 20 feet high or 1,000 feet high, it probably does not make a difference. If you fall, you die. You just have more flying experience in the latter situation. The documentary didn’t spend much time on this part of his act. He just became a focused machine when he stepped on the wire, no matter where he was, and he did his thing.

This movie could be boring for some people. There is little action. There is a lot of dialog in French with subtitles, since most of the participants do not speak any English. For me, this was a meaningful movie. I enjoyed listening to the French, I always do, even though I understand little anymore, despite my three years of college French. I am also fascinated by the twin towers. I was there in 1975, but I never went into them or up into the observation decks. Of course, I didn’t know that this would no longer be possible after 2001. There was a lot of footage of the towers being built, of the staircases, the upper decks, and photographs from the top of one over to the other, a very fascinating environment to see.

Finally, August 7, 1974 was my 18 birthday. Of course, I remember the day well. I was still a kid in Germany, and it was the day I got my driver’s license. I was also in the middle of preparations to depart for the United States for the first time as an exchange student a couple of weeks after that. So the time of the documentary, and the parallel events in my life, were closely aligned and meaningful to me. I enjoyed it very much.

Rating: ***

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