Film : "Man on Wire"
The World Trade Center Towers have become a symbol of our vulnerability. They are a reminder of September 11, 2001 and the loss of so many innocent lives and American innocence in general. Where once the towers stood for our invincibility, too often now their image is used as to remind us of potential threats. Standing in the face of this message of fear is the dazzling documentary "Man on Wire," currently playing in local movie theaters.
"Man on Wire" tells the story of Philippe Petit and his band of merry pranksters who managed to string a cable between the two World Trade Center Towers. As dawn broke on August 7, 1974, Mr. Petit, a Frenchman and an extraordinary wirewalker, strode across the 200-foot distance on a wire five-eighths of an inch thick. For 45 minutes he walked, lay, bowed, and knelt a quarter mile up in the air between what were then the tallest buildings in the world.
"Man on Wire" tells this story through a neatly woven blend of archival footage, interviews, and reconstructions that are complemented by a fine soundtrack. A consummate athlete and charismatic daredevil, Mr. Petit is also a marvelous storyteller. He dreamed of traversing the two towers when he first saw a drawing of them in a magazine while waiting in a dentist's office in Paris. This was six and a half years before the two towers were even constructed. From years of dreaming to the eight months of meticulous planning, to the moment he steps on the wire, Mr. Petit carries us along on a wild and exciting journey.
9/11 is never mentioned, but the fate of the towers permeates the film. We watch them take shape first as an idea, a sketch on a piece of paper. When we see the hole in the ground as construction begins, first we mistake it for Ground Zero. As we follow Mr. Petit's dream, and its realization, we follow the various stages of the towers' construction. What isn't said, but stuns, is that Mr. Petit is alive to tell the story, while the gargantuan towers are gone.
When Mr. Petit finally wire walks, high jinx becomes high art. Watching Mr. Petit dance between the towers, a speck up in the air, was transformative, and those lucky enough to see this feat never forgot it. The movie fully captures this magic and can leave one feeling dizzy just thinking about it.
Mr. Petit's stunt was provocative and, of course, illegal, but it was also inspiring and joyous. The film honors the memory of 9/11 by reminding us to be bold, to take chances, to live out our dreams, and to keep fear at bay. "Man on Wire" is a tour de force worthy of Mr. Petit's incredibly bold feat.
"Man on Wire", Sunday, Sept. 14 at 4:30 pm; Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 7:15 pm; Thursday, Sept. 18 at 4:15 pm, Entertainment Cinemas, Edgartown.
West Tisbury resident Laura Wainwright is a frequent contributor to The Times.