Fulfilling the Dream: “Man on Wire”

In the Q&A session that followed the New York premiere of “Man on Wire” at the Tribeca Film Festival, Director James Marsh revealed that he had approached this New York showing with great trepidation. After all, the World Trade Center could arguably be called the co-star of his film. Marsh wondered if it was possible for 90 minutes to bring a New York audience to a time when the Twin Towers simply reflected our hopes and captured our imaginations. He needn’t have worried; he succeeded brilliantly.

The word “documentary” fails to do this film justice for the film is so much more. It’s a mesmerizing caper film; it’s an ode to a bygone era; it’s a love story between a boy and a building. For 90 minutes this film held its audience spellbound. We heard nary a word, no cell phones, no whispered commentary until, of course, at its conclusion when the theatre burst into sustained applause.

Marsh dramatically conveys the months, days and hours leading up to Philippe Petit’s historic high-wire walk across the Twin Towers through black-and-white recreations, historic footage and recollections from the principal participants, such as our own Barry Greenhouse.

Speaking of Mr. Greenhouse, he is a delight in this film, looking suave and debonair, recounting how some three decades earlier he helped lay the groundwork for this historic event. One of the bigger laughs during the premiere night came when an old photograph, circa 1974, of Mr. Greenhouse appears on the screen. Let’s face it, the man looks positively demonic. You are advised so as to avert the eyes of any small children you may bring to see this film.

Marsh’s use of music and lighting, as well as some amazing film footage of Petit’s preparations for the WTC walk, further intensify the experience. Marsh intentionally makes no reference to September 11 in the film, but for those of us who worked in and near the building, footage of its construction and those early days of wonder and promise elicit bittersweet memories.

This is a film for everyone, whether you live in Manhattan or Kalamazoo. But if you ever worked in the Trade Center, as so many NYSID alums did, you owe it to yourself to see this picture. Since he was 17, Petit had a dream involving a building he had never seen. Many of us had dreams at 17, but this is the story of one man who fulfilled his, in spectacular fashion.

To view photos from the New York premiere, click here