Man On Wire

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 December, 2008, 12:00am

Man On Wire

Philippe Petit, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Annie Allix, Jean-Francois Heckel

Director: James Marsh

The title of James Marsh's documentary comes from the description used by New York police officers after the arrest of high-wire artist Philippe Petit on the roof of the World Trade Centre on August 7, 1974.

The Frenchman had just spent close to an hour walking between the twin towers on a cable he and his associates had set up the previous night.

The gravity-defying feat remains a defining moment in the history of the Big Apple landmark, so much so that the management gave Petit free access for life to the buildings' observatory deck - until the terrorist attacks destroyed the towers seven years ago.

Marsh - whose previous work was feature film The King - chose to do more than a straightforward documentary.

Man On Wire is driven by interviews with Petit and his accomplices, with the addition of stylistic devices borrowed from film. The group's preparations are depicted as a heist-like operation and there is melodrama in depicting how Petit and his friends fell out after the stunt.

Also interwoven are visual touches harking back to silent film (the re-enactments of Petit's early life) and documentaries (archive footage of the construction of the twin towers), backed by Michael Nyman's minimalist score.

The result is a riveting chronicle of Petit's balancing act of a life, as Marsh lays bare the Frenchman's obsession with his art, which would eventually lead to the collapse of his personal relationships, and his long-running desire to conquer the giddying heights of the towers.

Lighthearted moments abound, with the most revealing scenes the re-enactment of Petit's hide-and-seek with the twin towers guards the night before he took to the wire: his childlike zeal embodies his fixation with achieving his goals.

Extras: Footage of Petit's Sydney Harbour Bridge Crossing; more interview footage with Petit; animation film about the World Trade Centre wire-walk.