Philippe Petit, described as a “volatile Frenchman”, one morning in 1974 pulled off what has been called “the artistic crime of the century”. That is, he walked a tightrope (actually a 450-pound cable) between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City without legal permission and, most incredibly, did it more than once - 8 times by one count before being arrested by awaiting police officers. Petit was a 24 year old accomplished high-wire walker and performance artist who became obsessed with the Towers while they were still unders construction in 1968. He studied them intensely, collecting photographs and making extensive notes that led to models that he used to plot his amazing feat. Disguised as construction workers, he and a small crew were able to sneak into the buildings and overnight set up the cable (by bow and arrow at first, mind you) to put Petit's 6 years of planning into effect.
With recreations of the plotting process, interviews with the key players, and a vast amount of photographs this documentary takes us step by step through what Marsh correctly accessed could be a great “heist movie”. Petit, still fit and energetic, is glowingly proud about the event with many amusing anecdotes enhancing his unflappable ecentricity and showing us precisely what kind of human being would go to this extreme length. He considered the idea something that would amount to a “Beautiful show” and alternately “a bank robbery”. It is indeed both; a riveting ride as well as one of the best docs of its kind that begs to be seen on the big screen. The scale of the monumental endeavor wouldn’t be as appreciated on DVD and the full impact doubtfully would be grasped.
Petit, for a small agile man, is a larger than life personality whose grace at such a frighteningly high altitude is mind boggling. It is admirable that despite its subject no mention is made of the tragic fate of the Towers - we all know that already and it is defintiely better to freeze them in time with this staggering act. That the sky could be conquered in such a theatrical manner by a man with nothing but a 26 foot balancing pole and a fearless pysche is beyond breath-taking. MAN ON WIRE, as a doc and an art film, is a spare unimposing work unconcerned with anything but its simple yet strong story but as a tribute to the unending conquests of mere mortals (even ones as bat-shit crazy as Petit), its power and range is limitless.