Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Man on Wire

Philippe Petit walks between the Twin Towers

A day of flexi kept me out of work today, thank the divine powers and pantheon. Half tempted to go to an advance screening of 'Hellboy 2', I couldn't face set seating and ignored it to go to 'Man on Wire' instead. Strangely enough I was watching an account of events 34 years ago to the day, or almost. Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers on the morning of August 7th, 1974, though most of the movie is concerned with his preparations on Tuesday the 6th. It makes for a great documentary, much in the style of 'Touching the Void' without anyone, happily, falling. There is no doubt the man had guts - the shots of New York 450 meters below as he lies on the wire are sickening - and there is the temptation to ask what the incredulous Americans uniformly ask afterwards: why? However, the movie has answered this question well before the climactic walk; this, to Petit, is art, challenge and dream, and as he does what no sane person would contemplate, we do not begrudge him this goal. The same goals and dreams that drive us all in youth are what drove him, he just showed more guts than most, not by walking, but by achieving.
Entertaining though this is, you can't help feeling there is a level of the story that escapes us. The burden he places on his gang - the friends and acquaintances who help him achieve his goal - is mentioned repeatedly, but not probed. When Jean-Louis bursts into tears, or Annie cooly discusses their break-up, the audience understands, but vaguely; we can all see Petit, but he is still far away, shrouded a little in the early morning fog. And just how did that fame Annie mentions transform the tightrope walker? It's a difficult act the movie attempts and though it succeeds in walking its own particular tightrope, you kind of wish that like Petit they recrossed it a few times.



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