Every so often, a cinemaphile sees a film that just makes her eyes pop out and her heart stop. It’s a moment when time stands still. It’s love at first sight. Maybe I sound melodramatic, but to say that the documentary Man on Wire was a moving experience is simply too pedestrian for the transcendent beauty that this film brings to the screen.
The story follows the escapade of a high-wire artist, Philippe Petit, who follows his dream to string a wire (illegally) between the twin towers and walk from the top of one tower to the other. With this group of supportive friends and adventurers, they set out to do what even they think may be impossible.
The story is beautifully filmed, with a mixture of live footage, photography, reenactment and interviews. The live footage is just astounding. There is really something magical at the sight of a man walking on a thin wire, through the air, at astounding heights, and all for the sake of beauty. There is a glorious moment in the film when Petit reminisces on how the American public reacted to his high wire dance (which lasted about 40 minutes). They immediately wanted to know why. Petit noticed how this is such an American question. Why? He just did something so beautiful, and they ask why. Why do we need to know why? As he said, there is no why. There is only beauty.
What a fantastic message. Today, we limit everything to its functionality. People want to replace books with electronic reading devices. We tear down historical buildings to erect big, ugly –but oh so useful– ones. Someone told me recently that he would rather read a comic book than go to an art gallery because comics are more time efficient. Children spend quality time with their parents instead of having family relationships. Pardon my soapbox moment, but there is something greatly refreshing about being reminded of what art is. It’s transcendent beauty. It moves the soul; elevates mankind. Why do we need to have a reason for everything? We are not mere cogs in the machine of progress, but human beings, and sometimes transgressing the norms to put something beautiful into the world, without reason, is just what we need to remind ourselves of who we are. Artistic crime of the century? Perhaps. But, when it brings such good with it, perhaps it’s not a crime. Perhaps we can call it the Artistic Breakthrough of the Century?
Man on Wire (2008) is directed by James Marsh and written by Philippe Petit