August 1, 2008
I saw Man on a Wire last week and the documentary has lingered with me. The film has several annoying elements: the main character is basically a mime (he's not actually a mime, but let's just say he has a mime-like personality, and who among us does not discriminate against the mimes), the film uses cheesy low-fi reenactments mixed with archival footage (a technique more suited to television than film), and the movie has been overpraised (always suspicious), but despite all that I can't deny the movie's resonance. It's a tale that touches on the act of creating art, mortality, creation, destruction, and ultimately vanity and betrayal which is more than I can say for most films I've seen recently. The filmmakers never mentioned 9/11 as the connection is implicit: the planning that went into this performance was the poetic inverse of the planning that went into the towers' destruction and perhaps this is why the film inspires such emotion in its audiences (many in our audience jumped to their feet and clapped at the end). A. O. Scott wrote in his New York Times review,
"It is easy to imagine that, in contemplating the scale and solidity of those brand-new towers, Mr. Petit saw them at least partly as the vehicle of his own immortality (whether or not he survived the crossing). No one looking up at the New York sky on a hazy morning 34 years ago and seeing a man on a wire could have suspected that the reverse would turn out to be true."Go see this film if you have the chance.
Related: Philippe Petit's Wikipedia page which includes scans of the the famous New Yorker covers he inspired. Also read Paul Auster's Red Notebook which contains a great short story inspired by the walk.
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While browsing around for this article I found a neat little homemade site called Walking Art with many examples of epic walks. The site fails to include the great walking artist Hamish Fulton who is an artistic inspiration and whose family has been very kind to my family.