FMP: Research – Man on Wire 2008
‘On August 7th, 1974, a young Frenchman named Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire illegally rigged between the New York World Trade Center’s twin towers. After dancing for nearly an hour on the wire, he was arrested, taken for psychological evaluation, and brought to jail before he was finally released. This extraordinary documentary incorporates Petit’s personal footage to show how he overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges to achieve the artistic crime of the century.’
Man on Wire is a 2008 Oscar winning British documentary film directed by James Marsh. It also won Academy Awards Best Documentary Feature and is rated 100 on Rotten Tomatoes.
Man on Wire is an exciting and compelling story drawing you in right from the start which jumps straight into the story. This is a very cleverly put together documentary as the audience is taken on an extraordinary journey and is made to feel as if they were there themselves. James does this by capturing the crazed and extremely enthusiastic personality of Philippe who is of course a natural storyteller, and using a mixture of old footage and new interpreted footage with actors replaying out the scene. He also gets Phillipe to show us examples of their plotting to anchor the wire to the two towers which invites us in more and we now feel the excitement and rush of the situation. The cuts are made to match the pace of the story and as Philippe get more excited and talks faster the cuts become more rapid, thus engaging our attention and not letting go. With the fantastic original and interpreted footage there is no way in which your attention can drift as these images are so striking and tense at times that you don’t wan to miss a single bit.
When Phillipe or his colleagues are not speaking the images do it for them, even when his French friends are speaking in French and you have no idea what they are saying it doesn’t matter for the images tell all. The fact that you don’t know what they are saying lets your imagination run wild, but you can easily imagine what they would be saying about Phillipe and his wire walking fascination. The music also helps carry the documentary but is not a key component, though it does add to certain scenes that are magnificently lifted as a breathtaking moment, it also adds particular joy and fun into the film. There is also slight experimentation with lighting as it moves and shifts revealing new characters, just as new parts of the story are revealed and unfolded.
What James does best is capture the personality of Philippe perfectly and also conveys the story in such a way that it unfolds in excitement, leaving one part of the story to introduce a new part and then eventually go back to finish off the last part. It is clear that to make a really good engaging documentary you have to be able to tell a good story whether it is exciting or not, and most important of all you have to capture the personality of your main subject.
This is by far the best documentary I have ever seen as I have never felt so involved and engaged within a story and it truly was an exhilarating experience.