Monday, June 18 , 2018, 11:27 am | Fair 65º

 
 
 
 

Cinema in Focus: ‘Man On Wire’

The documentary about a Parisian street performer who walks a high wire between the World Trade Center towers will keep you on your toes.

2 Stars — Shallow reflections

The life of the World Trade Center towers and Philippe Petit are remarkably intertwined. At age 17, Petit, as a young Parisian street performer, saw a picture of the two towers that were going to be built in New York City and explains that he knew then that it was his goal in life to walk a wire between them. He does so on Aug. 7, 1974. When he is successful his life’s purpose seems to collapse around him. This walk of consuming passion is presented on film by James Marsh in the documentary Man on Wire.

Taking the actual words on the arrest papers by the New York City Police Department, Man on Wire is a composite work. Actual footage is woven seamlessly with actors who allow us to walk with a small group of friends through years of their lives as they come under the spell of Petit and his obsession not only to walk the wire, but to do so in illegal venues from Notre Dam Cathedral to the towers of a bridge in Sydney to walking between the two tallest buildings in the world, the Twin Towers.

With a clear sense of needing to walk above the usual rules of life, Petit (played by Paul McGill in dramatizations) calls companions to join him. His first recruit is a young woman named Annie Allix (played by Ardis Campbell). Explaining that Petit never really asked her if she had any goals of her own, Allix is willing to give herself to following him in his — something she does on the practice wire in the garden of his home. In her words, Allix explains that when they are successful in traversing the towers, it is as though their purpose for being together is also finished. Their love story is somehow connected with the towers and ends with them.

Other companions play slightly different roles. Jean-Louis Blondeau and Jean-Louis (played by David Demato) are lifelong friends who care about Petit, and because they know the depth of his passion are willing to be arrested to assist him. In a very different role is a collection of people who are willing to assist him, from making fake security badges to helping secure the cable. These people are described by Jean-Louise as “losers” who want to be a part of the escapade itself.

As Americans, there is something deeper that happens in watching the film. As we watch Petit grow up and learn how to be a street performer, we watch the towers being built. Put side by side on screen, we watch their forms mature together and accept Petit’s explanation that the towers’ very existence is linked with his own destiny to walk a wire between them. Though the film does not address the fact that the towers are no longer here, it is clear that in a mystical way something died with Petit once he walked between them. Perhaps that’s because his passion was not high enough.
 
Discussion:

» Allix explains that part of the passion for Petit was the illegality of his walk. She thinks it’s because of his strict upbringing. Why do you think people become fascinated with doing things that break the rules?

» The amazing complexity of the feat required breaking the security of the Twin Towers. How did that part of the tale affect you? Was it unsettling or exciting? Why?

» What is the passion in your life? Is it large enough to transcend this world?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >