Early on an August morning in 1974, a puckish Frenchman finally acted on an idea he'd been mulling, planning, and rehearsing for months on end, and one that had no other real purpose than that he thought it would be kind of fun. If that idea had involved joining the circus or hitchhiking across the country, there wouldn't be much of a story. But since the Frenchman's plan was to walk on a tightrope (actually a sturdy steel cable) he and his confederates had surreptitiously strung between the World Trade Center towers, the plan fairly screams out for further analysis. In case it needed to be said, there wasn't any kind of safety net if he lost his balance or was blown over by the high winds ripping off the East River, just a plummeting fall of some 1,400 feet to the concrete below that was slowly filling up with curious onlookers.
James Marsh's bright-eyed documentary Man on Wire is the unaccountably thrilling story behind that nearly quarter-century-old exploit, shot in much the same proficient and playful manner as would befit the man who did it. The tightrope walker was Philippe Petit, a prank-prone street performer and theatrical jack of all trades who had trained himself as an accomplished high wire artist. Since walking on a wire in a circus tent with a long pole for balance simply didn't fit his personality, Petit graduated to illegal performances, like walking between the towers of Notre Dame cathedral and the towers on the Sydney harbor bridge. Then he set his sights on the Twin Towers.
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