With almost every single rule out there having been broken by someone at some point in history, one has to wonder whether there is any kind of revolution left to be brought in any field. From music to films, and from architecture to literature, everything seems to have been done, everything sounds familiar. So we might as well sit back and relax, right?
Man On Wire however challenges this view and calls it fear. Philippe Petit forces people to face a truth that some might not be confident enough to handle, namely the fact that there is always something new and untold flowing in the air, waiting for someone to bring it down, make it his and introduce it to the rest of the world. This certain someone just needs to be a little crazier than most, in love with life and death, rebellious and uncompromising on all levels. Then and only then will he be able to recognize this entirely new concept, make it his mission and fight for it while recognising and accepting none of the obvious dangers.
Released in 2008 and directed by James Marsh, Man On Wire tells the extreme story of Philippe Petit, the wildest high-wire walker to have ever existed. Based on the hero’s book, To Reach The Clouds, the documentary feels more like an action movie or perhaps even a stock-footage styled thriller, than a real story. And the same needs to be said about the protagonist, who never feels or sounds like an actual person. And who makes Superman cry.
Philippe Petit walked above many things. He casually strolled on a rope between the towers of Notre Dame in Paris. He then paced from one north pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the other, in 1973. But then after he took France and Australia, he dared to take New York. His longest and craziest walk took place in 1974, when Philippe didn’t just walk, rather he danced, on a wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Smiling, taking his time, knowing he’d achieved something great, and offering New Yorkers the most surreal sight, Philippe stayed on that wire for almost an hour. And once he saw that everything was going to be ok, he allowed himself a bit of time to enjoy the ride.
After policemen rushed to the Twin Towers’ roofs to try to stop him, Philippe was already halfway through his routine. Seeing them there waiting to arrest him, he slowed down, smiled, and lay down with his back on the wire, floating above the city of New York… Is there a better way to take New York? Than to remind Wall Streeters that life is to be lived literally on the edge?
The film got its title from the police report that led to the acrobat’s arrest after his last walk between the Twin Towers. Chilling and highly stressful to watch, the rare footage interacts with present-day interviews of everyone involved in those projects. They all narrate, offer opinions, and declare their admiration and respect for Philippe Petit and his way of looking at life and death. And the man himself is there to offer his vivid and enthusiastic side of the story. A mad man, out of his mind, but so beautiful to watch and listen to. Philippe Petit is inspiring in every way.
In 2008 the film won the Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema Documentary and the World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary, at the Sundance Film Festival. The next year it also won the BAFTA award for Outstanding British Film, and then it went on receiving the Independent Spirit Award as well as the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
With Philippe Petit having achieved something so incredibly beautiful and meaningful, and James Marsh having turned it into such a powerful documentary, it comes as no surprise that the Twin Towers’ destruction was not even mentioned in the film. Getting into something as painful as that would have taken away some of the beauty of Philippe’s madness, which would be unfair.
The man on wire was charged with disturbing the peace. Which applies to some extent, although not in the way that the police or the State of New York meant it. Philippe Petit definitely disturbed my peace, and no doubt the film disturbs everyone’s peace. Because it makes you think, it gets you restless, it wakes you up, and this is not something any police department has ever liked. Man On Wire preaches revolution through beautiful insanity and thirst for life, and this is definitely disturbing the peace of many wanting to carry on doing nothing about anything.
“Life should be lived on the edge of life. You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge – and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope”. Philippe Petit, Man On Wire.