Tag Archives: Jean François Heckel

Man On Wire (2008)

“The fact that I could not speak French, and didn’t know what the sound was or what had happened with the wire… was probably just as well.”

Cast: Philippe Petit, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau

Seeing really is believing. But I think I’ll just go on and watch this a few more times.

Man On Wire is a documentary about French tightrope walker Phillippe Petit and his quest to conquer the unbelievable, wire walking between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. We are shown how he and his gang managed to outwit security, defy gravity and push the limits of the impossible sky high.

In August 1974 Philippe Petit amazed the world by doing the down right dangerous, but simply stunning act, of walking 8 times across a wire between the 2 tallest buildings in New York City. While onlookers stopped in the street and the police and rescue services were called, Philippe continued to entertain the growing crowd for 45 minutes.

Though a documentary, this film really is entertaining, engaging and well made – I’m not saying that just because it’s a documentary it shouldn’t be, but just that it did all of these things really well. It surprised me how successfully it grabs the attention of the audience, mainly due to its fascinating subject matter, probably the most talked about stunt of the 70s. Maybe even today. While you could say: “Yeah I saw a video of that guy”, you haven’t seen the months of preparation, the constant anxiety felt within the group and amazing talent behind that “guy” until you’ve seen this film.

With director James Marsh having access to all of Philippe’s footage, there really was no limits on showing just how extraordinary and massive this idea was, from, at the time, just a young street performer. Through the use of actual footage and photos we are shown every bit of progression with Philippe’s plans, and very cleverly through restaged footage, the stories that are told by the interviewees are dramatised – adding so much more to the film. You could perhaps even class it as a thriller for this very reason.

The film moves so effortlessly between these bits of footage you also find yourself guessing whether it is genuine or acted. It manages to be quite humorous too, Philippe is an obvious entertainer and he relishes that fact, coming alive in front of the camera. One scene in particular where he and his friend have to resort to hiding under a tarp for hours while a guard on duty, completely unaware of their presence, wanders around the top floor of the building had me in stitches.

Another thing that is revealed is just how risky the whole idea was. Yeah, I do just realise what I said. Let me explain: never mind the height, the unpredictability of the weather, getting caught while trying to get the equipment up to the roof or the fact that he was walking on a wire, but the people rigging the wire – one of the most vitally crucial things that had to be done precisely – were not trained. Philippe had to teach them. No pressure though, right?

It’s a completely amazing story. As his friends recall the event, tears are shed and we can see just how emotionally invested they were and perhaps, still are. This was their friend and there was a chance he could be killed if he made even the slightest mistake. We can watch it now and know he did it. He’s fine. But at the time there was no guarantee, no assurance he was going to do it successfully. You can see it in everyone’s eyes while they relive that day. What pure elation when they describe how beautiful it was. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about how relieved and proud they were, and still are, of him. It is truly a spectacle to behold.

On the morning of August 7th, Philippe Petit stood 1350ft above the ground and took that crucial step. Shifting his weight from the roof to the wire. His friends worried they could be arrested for trespassing, manslaughter or assisting a suicide. They were right to be worried too. As the police turned up and threatened Philippe with using a helicopter as a last resort to get him off the wire, Philippe made his way to the side. He was arrested just as they all suspected. The charge: disturbing the peace.

Star rating:   8/10

Directed by James Marsh.

Running time 94 minutes.