Narcissism and nostalgia, would be my bullet summary of Man on Wire, the documentary of Philippe Petit’s crossing of the World Trade Center on a tightrope.
Petit, a Frenchman whose means of support is not discussed at all, is a singular man with an incredible drive…to tightrope walk. His certainty and clarity of purpose is like a magnet to those around him, as he acquires a team to help him pull off a number of remarkable stunts: Walking between the towers at Notre Dame, and over a Sydney freeway, and finally, between the two largest towers in the world (at the time).
So, here’s a story about hope, passion, dedication, the creative impulse, and the ability to do the impossible, as well as a story about how easy it was to get people to do really stupid things in the ‘70s.
Petit narrates a lot of the story with tremendous passion, interspersed with comments from the others who were there at the various events. That’s not a spoiler, dammit: He’s there in the opening scenes of the movie. He obviously didn’t die. Actually, everyone still seems to be alive, which is not bad, given the time span.
This is an interesting story, both of the actual events and of the group dynamic, which completely disintegrates after the big event. It’s interesting to note that the whole thing was held together by one man’s passion, and it worked right up until he achieved his goal.
So, there’s the message: If you’re passionate enough–and you don’t care how you use people–you can do anything. I’m only being a little bit snarky, here. Everyone seems to have enjoyed being around this guy when he had this passion. He burned brightly. But I don’t get any sense that he ever related to anyone in any other way than how they could facilitate his ambitions.
Which, perhaps, is a lesson of its own about creative drive.
All-in-all, a pretty good movie, though I was confused by the fact that there’s actual footage of training they did. I first thought they had hired some very similar looking actors to the real people and recreated the scenes but, no, a lot of the (remarkably high quality!) footage is real, though they weren’t able to carry that through to the actual crossing.
Then they started throwing in re-enactments, which were pretty obviously fake. But at the end I found myself wondering which was which, and that’s not good for a documentary.
The ghost of the World Trade Center haunts the entire movie, though they never once mention 9/11. There’s no need to. You’re sitting there, looking at them going, and if you were sentient seven years ago, there’s going to be some resonance there.
All-in-all, not bad, though you don’t want to approach it from a dour, conventional point-of-view–or you’ll end up wondering what the hell it is that allows Europeans to waste all their time doing pointless things.
Take it as a flare of brilliance–a remarkable incident, never to be repeated–that fired up the imagination of the world for a few moments.
Maybe if you do something like that, that’s all you really ever need to do.