Sunday, May 24, 2009

Man on Wire

James Marsh, 2008 (7.8*)
Best Documentary (AA)

[Note: hard to be a spoiler here, it's on the dvd cover and the film description]

This was an amazing event in 1974, and James Marsh has done an admirable job in assembling the story from the present day to re-create a documentary looking backwards. He's used the technique of interspersing interviews with the participants with documentary footage, similar to the style Warren Beatty perfected in Reds, and taken to its extreme by Ken Burns, best used in his Civil War, Jazz, and Baseball series for PBS.

Philippe Petit is a French tightrope walker who liked to dazzle crowds and thumb his nose at authority by doing things like walking between the two towers of Notre Dame. He has to prepare these events at night when no one can see, then perform in the daylight to the delight of people below, then go to his expected arrest and public scolding. When he saw the plans of the World Trade Center, he became obsessed with walking between them when they were near completion.

Marsh carefully re-constructs the story leading up to the final event and tries to add as much drama as possible, but such an event is hardly earth-shattering in light of the events of 9/11, which oddly are never mentioned here. This is more in the realm of Cirque de Soleil, which is dazzling and athletic entertainment, this performance carrying a bit more risk of death than usual but as Philippe begins the film being interviewed from the present day, we already know the outcome from the beginning. However, this is a well-crafted film by Marsh and won the Oscar® for best documentary of 2008.


David H. May 25, 2009 at 6:45 PM  

We just rented this film a couple weeks ago and were just stunned. Even now, the thought of him up there sends me into a panic. It's hard to understand that Petit, between the twin towers, was on surer footing than I would be anywhere except on solid ground.

Eric May 26, 2009 at 10:02 AM  

Easily the best film of the year. One of the most suspenseful docs I've ever seen, which is pretty incredible considering I already knew how it would turn out.

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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