Man on Wire

"A magnificently eccentric film about imagination, risk-taking, and the unabated creative spirit." — Scott Foundas, Village Voice
Director: James Marsh
Year: 2007
Country: UK
Running time: 94 mins

Screenplay: Based on the book To Reach the Clouds by Philippe Petit
Photography: Igor Martinovic
Editor: Jinx Godfrey
Music: Michael Nyman
Colour and B&W/M nudity

With: Philippe Petit, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Annie Allix, Jim Moore, Mark Lewis

Festivals: Sundance, Tribeca 2008

World Cinema Jury Prize and Audience Award, Sundance Film Festival 2008

If the World Trade Centre were standing today, it’s inconceivable that a slender bloke in black ballet shoes would try to tightrope-walk between its twin towers. Yet that’s exactly what French funambulist Philippe Petit did in 1974, in what would become known as “the artistic crime of the century”. In this thrilling and enthralling documentary, members of Petit’s original team of accomplices, as well as his long-suffering girlfriend, recall the events of the day – codenamed “le coup” – in mesmerising detail, while Petit himself relives each second as though it was his last. What emerges is a portrait of obsessive determination, superhuman focus and massive, joyous lunacy. Images of the towers provide a powerful but unspoken allegory for a lost era, when characters like Petit were able to get away with dangerous and illegal stunts in a spirit of death-defying rebellion, without receiving more than a slap on the wrist. Sufferers of vertigo will watch this documentary in an almost unbearable state of tension, but even those with a head for heights will squirm at images of Petit poised on the edge of what was a 450-metre drop between towers. It doesn’t matter that Petit survived the stunt – after all, here he is talking about it 30 years later – you still anticipate a horrible splat. — BZ  

“In British filmmaker James Marsh’s exhilarating documentary account – a crowd-pleaser in such witty, poetic ways that even an art-house curmudgeon couldn’t deny its tidy vigour – Petit’s adventure, from dentist’s-office inspiration and eight months of scheming to the ultimate stunt, is re-enacted like a slick heist thriller.” — Aaron Hillis, Village Voice