Sunday, March 22, 2009

Film Club's Highwire Act

As advertised, last night found Film Club assembled at Millbrooker Towers for our first cinematic documentary: James Marsh's 2008 telling of Phillipe Petit's derring-do in the high wire "Man on Wire". I guess that almost everyone will be aware (thanks to massive publicity) that the film documents the illegal wire-walk undertaken by Petit between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York in August 1974.Film Club was augmented by a rare appearance by Helen along with Dozybean and YarMatt, so extra seating was brought into service and (possibly for the first time in his life) Frankenkeith found himself sat upon a pouffe.

But enough of my witterings - what about the film? It's received widespread critical acclaim, and deservedly so. But is it cinema? I rather thought not; it's great TV and a thoroughly entertaining documentary, but I didn't reckon it was great cinema. Let's put that minor gripe aside, and look at what the film tries to achieve.As with most documentaries that I've seen, there are plenty of people talking to camera; some engagingly and some rather less charismatic. The principal protagonist in the escapade being commemorated - Monsieur Petit himself - is lively, entertaining and utterly barking. He was quite evidently an intense young man back in the 60s and 70s, with the drive, skill and creativity to realise his dreams of performing in the most outrageous spaces.

Before the twin towers "walk" he had performed similar stunts on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and between the bell towers of Notre Dame in Paris; both of these walks are shown as part of the film and drew plenty of comment from Shazzeroneypoos along the lines of "I couldn't do that". How true.We are led through the planning stages of the feat over New York; how to gain access to the site, how to set up a wire upon which to walk - all of which resembles nothing so much as a heist plot.

Eventually Petit ventures out with nothing between himself and the plaza beneath but 1350 feet of air. Sadly there is no film coverage of the event within the documentary only still photography, but the sense of wonder and enchantment is almost palpable nonetheless.Petit spent about 45 minutes between the towers, walking, dancing, lying down, kneeling on the wire. The one place in the world where no one could reach him or touch him. The police waited on either side, but whilst he remained on the wire he was the most free man on the planet. Even without moving images, that sense of pure and unadulterated freedom is an awesome thing to watch.After the walk, Petit is led away in handcuffs which he describes as the most dangerous part of the whole exercise (and possibly with good reason).

The film manages to work on another level altogether as well. Not only do we get entertained and awed by the spectacle, but we get a subtle and fascinating insight into one man's psyche. How his obsession and, let's be frank, self-centred nature both freed him to achieve his dreams and drove his friends and associates to eventually withdraw from him.The film club scale worked out roughly like this: Dong took no fag breaks for the 93 minute running time despite suggesting he might need to before we started due to potential vertigo; Shazzerooneypoos made not a single wuffling noise and made lots of "good god" and "he's mad" noises instead; Frankenkeith enjoyed the drama and also liked telling us of his own exploits on Sydney Harbour Bridge. Everyone else, it's fair to say was quite stunned by what we'd witnessed.

So - yet another film club recommendation. It's not cinema per se, in my 'umble, but it is a tremendous ride.

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