It is almost unfathomable to contemplate how Frenchman tightrope walker Philippe Petit was able to step out onto a 7/8-inch wire he and accomplices had illegally stretched between the two towers of the World Trade Center in August of 1974. To even think about putting one foot, then the other out into the windy, swaying void a quarter of a mile into the air makes ones palms break into a sweat. To do it for more than an hour, crossing eight times, borders on insanity. At least, that is, to a viewer—Petit was right at home. In fact, he says the Towers were drawn to him, not vice-versa. Man on Wire, a new documentary from English director James Marsh, details “the coup” (as they called it) with interviews, recreations and actual footage, so effectively you end with a more than grudging respect for the man who audaciously—and somewhat infectiously—embraces life on the edge. Such monomania as this has never been better articulated than with Petit, who speaks spryly of his daunting adventures—adventures that got him arrested 600 times in his life—as if they were the most obvious things to do. One could argue that our fascination with art itself is at root, especially in this age of distraction, an attraction with the ability to focus intently enough to produce something that conveys single-minded attention. In that sense, Petit’s efforts to walk a wire 1,300 feet up is the ultimate expression of art—as is the impenetrable calm he inspires even with the ultimate price so close at hand—and Marsh’s film puts you right there into the mind of a true artist.
Magnolia Films, 94 minutes
Available: December 9