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Man on Wire

09/11/08 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(HOST) Since 2001, commentator Bill Mares has experienced deeply conflicting emotions on September 11. But this year, he says that a rose has appeared among the thorns.

(MARES) On this seventh anniversary of 9/11, we steel ourselves for another somber flood of memorials, speeches at Ground Zero, and cries of "Never again!"  However, an antidote to such gloom comes in a new film which re-captures the moment 34 years ago of one man's riveting and peaceful conquest of that same Manhattan airspace.

Now I know this kind of stunt is against the law for good reasons, but the juxtaposition of these two events is at the transcendent heart of the film Man on Wire, a brilliant and high-charged docu-drama about Phillip Petit's epocal tightrope walk between the World trade Towers in August 1974.

Nowhere in the film is there a single reference to, or image of, the rain of death, destruction and horror on September 11, 2001. Yet, you cannot watch those tell-tale steel facades, or figuratively travel the elevators, escalators and stairs, or see crowds of puzzled, anxious faces looking skyward, without thinking of that black day.
Director James Marsh shrewdly lets you complete the documentary with your own memories.  His laser focus is upon the irrepressible Petit, who seemed to be painting the air with his 20-foot balancing pole.

Marsh shows the trajectory of Petit's mission through a tightly-wrought mix of present-day interviews with Petit and his Franco-American team of co-conspirators, film footage from the preparations for the actual event, and some clever re-enactments to fill in the gaps.

As the film progresses, you understand the depths of Petit's dual rebellion against authority and gravity - and his fixation to bridge improbable spaces.
Although his training in French and American countrysides, recorded in grainy 70's home video, has some of the mad-cap qualities of a Beatles film, you also see the care with which he used practical physics to rig his cables and ropes. His prior aerial triumphs on the twin towers of Notre Dame (during a Mass, no less) and a harbor bridge in Sydney, Australia prepared him (and now you) for the main event.
You learn how he assembled his team, human filings drawn to his magnetic dream.  They were like a team of bank robbers, whose preparations, arguments and audacity reminded me of the jewel burglary in the classic French film Rififi.
A special note of praise goes to the music, mostly by Michael Nyman, an English composer, which fits the caper like like a glove.  It is by turns sublime, spooky, affectionate, never intrusive, always supportive.  It climaxes with Erik Satie's Gynoepoedie, roughly translated as "poetic gymnastics," a perfect match for Petit's giddy performance.

Petit was a burglar of sorts - he stole our hearts and breath in his victory of daring and spirit.  But the experience he stole atop those now-iconic Trade Towers, he also gave back to the world, making our memory of them triumphantly whole once more - at least for 90 minutes in a darkened theater.
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