'Man on Wire'


At first, it wouldn't seem likely that the story of high-wire walker Philippe Petit's notorious 1974 unauthorized crossing from one tower of the World Trade Center to the other would make a promising subject for a full-length documentary. What a surprise, then, that James Marsh's "Man on Wire" turns out to be a highly entertaining, deeply moving film that also has the added benefit of adding positive memories of the buildings that were brought down with such a tragic loss of life.

The film is set for a national theatrical release in August.

It turns out that Petit's daring stunt required a much higher level of preparation than one might have suspected. Using plenty of footage shot at that time plus dramatic re-enactments, the film relates the complex tale with the breathlessness of a caper thriller.

The young French wirewalker was inspired to perform his feat even while the buildings were first being planned, and he went about preparing for his effort while they were being built. Aided by a team of accomplices, he devised an elaborate plan for gaining the information that would help him and his cohorts sneak into the building and rig up the equipment necessary for him to span the towers on a single wire located 1,350 feet above the ground, with no net to guarantee his safety.

There is no shortage of colorful personalities on display, from the puckish Petit — who had performed similar stunts at Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral and Australia's Sydney Harbour Bridge — to such cohorts as the pseudonymous "Donald," who in a current interview confesses that he was stoned nearly every day that the plans were being made.

Marsh presents the story in an undeniably uplifting, inspirational manner, largely eschewing any references to the buildings' ultimate fate. By the time the adventure reaches its conclusion, with Petit successfully completing his mission and becoming a minor celebrity in the process, it has the not unwelcome feel of an urban fairy tale. (partialdiff)