A Lotus Grows in Brooklyn

Elegy and joy in ‘Man on Wire’
June 16, 2009, 11:14 am
Filed under: Arts | Tags: ,

I feel as though even a flawed movie often has something to offer, some nugget of insight that can be gleaned. This was the case with “Man on Wire,” the Oscar-winning documentary about a wire walker who traversed the space between the World Trade Center towers in 1974.

The film is composed of contemporary interviews with the wire walker, Philippe Petit, and his cohorts; dramatic reenactments of the events of that day; and old video footage of the team preparing for the stunt. Some of these segments work less well than others, and a gimmick of introducing each new character by having him or her spin dramatically toward the camera under a bright light was downright silly.

The emotional core of the movie, though, is solid and well played. I see this as the juxtaposition of the wire walker’s exuberant love for the Twin Towers with the unmentioned tragedy that later befell them. On one hand, Philippe exists as a boundless font of cheerful energy. His quest to walk between the towers is accomplished through the determination to bring something beautiful to the world. While at times his earnestness can be annoyingly quirky, it’s inspiring to see someone who truly believes in something pure. On the other hand, the shots of the World Trade Center’s presence can only now bring to mind its current absence. Footage of workers laying the foundations for the towers in the late 1960s looked eerily similar to how the ground zero work site does now. Video of the skyscrapers’ stairways conjure images of what it might have felt like to walk down them in terror. Not to mention the idea of falling from the height of those buildings.

The filmmakers never tip their hand in this respect, and I find their subtlety in dealing with the subject of the towers themselves to be classy. And even though some of the storytelling around Philippe and his adventure is heavy-handed, his magnetic, joyous personality is very affecting.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Philippe is crazy. But awesome.

This movie is good, but it’s no In Bruges.

Comment by Klaus

This movie is boring. I fast forwarded through it. Phillipe is annoying and empty.

Comment by Dhaval M.

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