Sunday, June 07, 2009

Man on Wire


James Marsh directed Man on Wire to critical acclaim, and snagged amongst other recognition, the best documentary feature in this year's Academy Awards. Containing the usual talking heads styled interviews with everyone involved one way or another in high-wire walker Philippe Petit's 1974 stunt at New York's World Trade Centers' Twin Towers, this film is extremely engaging as you the audience get to participate in what is sadly a stunt that can no longer be replicated.

I guess it's already mentioned in countless of reviews that this film played out like a heist movie, where the perpetrators run through elaborate planning, trials and research in order to get their logistics all set up right. And true to a stunt of any nature, meticulous and painful planning is a necessary ingredient to ensure that the objectives get pulled off successfully with minimum fuss or injury. Surveillance is always key, and the copious amount of intelligence gathering performed by Petit and his team, is nothing short of commendable, if I may say so, involving everything from on-site surveying of activity and key locations, and helicopter rides.

But you can't help but to feel a sense of how lax security got compromised at the time, where the group can get by with fake IDs for starters, and the rest just exhibiting some confidence in order to bypass gatekeepers. Then there's always the insider to provide support, as well as an enormous stroke of luck to make everything a lot more easier, such as having the use of the freight lift to lug their heavy equipment.

While the film chronicles Petit's efforts in achieving his impossible dream, from the more humble beginnings such as initial practice in a backyard, and scaling other projects such as the Notre Dame and Sydney Harbour Bridge, what was niggling at the back of my mind were the Twin Towers themselves. There were enough images and clips shown of how the Towers got built, the sheer magnificence of it all, witnessing the erection from ground all the way up. There's this sense of pity and regrettable loss that they no longer dot the skyline of NYC, and not having personally been there before, I can only imagine how iconic those towers once stood.

Man on Wire does get a little dry sometimes since there's only one mission objective and with its participants very focused on getting the job done, and it's a shame that there's no video clip of Petit performing those multiple walks across both directions in a 45 minute period - yes, it's not just 1 walk! - compared to something similar if done today, with the proliferation of video cameras, we'll probably have multiple angles of the same thing!

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