On Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of seeing a preview of the film "Man on Wire" - a remarkable documentary about Philippe Petit, and his 1974 tight-rope walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Directed by James Marsh the film interviews all the main participants - the girlfriend who stood by his side in spite of her misgivings and fears; the childhood friends who collaborated on the myriad steps of the plan, and Petit himself, who is one of the most charismatic documentary subjects one could find.
A combination of artist, dare-devil, and madman, Petit's sense of wonder, mischief and enthusiasm both in the archival footage and in the present day interviews give the film a relentless forward momentum. Thanks to the extensive archive material, some excellent reconstructions of the action, and Michael Nyman's dramatic music, you can’t help but feel tense even though you know the outcome.
Director Marsh does an excellent job and at times it feels like the film is more Hollywood thriller than existential documentary. The team plan their operation like a heist, spending months studying the towers, inventing ways in which to transport their equipment up and then across the towers, and dressing up in disguises as they case the WTC Towers.
Then there was the real danger involved. The wind velocity at 1,368 feet, the elasticity of the buildings, and of course the omnipresent threat of death. Yet Petit’s dream stirred a city mired in depression and crime, and the fact that he refused to explain himself, in spite of the everyone asking 'why', makes the event all the more mysterious and affecting.
At the end of the screening Petit came out for a question and answer and his presence, charisma, and command in person were no less than in the film. By the time he was finished, I felt I had the privilege of meeting the greatest performance artist of all time.