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a blog from Eli the Bearded
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Man on Wire and The Walk

I rewatched Man on Wire (currently streaming on Netflix) and then went out to see The Walk in "Imax 3D".

Man on Wire (2008) at IMDB

This is a charming and engaging documentary about the tightrope (er, wire) walker Philippe Petit. A Frenchman with a passion for heights, he pulls some stunts putting up wires in public places, eg, Notre Dame and Sydney Harbor Bridge, then walking on them for a while before getting arrested. But then he learns that the towers of the World Trade Center have been finished, and what purpose could those have been built for but to let Philippe run his cable and walk on top of the world....

There is much about the planning of this undertaking (you need a lot of heavy wire for the "rope", and how do get it across that chasm?) with modern interviews with participants and recreated scenes. The end is probbably not a surprize to anyone, so I'll let slip that the title comes from the desciption of the crime in the police report.

Petit's worst luck was the date, which had more newsworthy events.

The Walk (2015) at IMDB

Both concern Philippe Petit's ambitious goal to high-wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Center, a plan that starts to form in his mind before construction begins. Man on Wire is a documentary that ends with the event. The Walk is a recreation that puts a lot less emphasis on the preparation and a lot more on the actualization. Instead of seeing how many times Philippe flies across the world, to practice on the Sydney Harbor Bridge, or to study things at the site in Manhattan and then practice in a carefully measured out space in a field in France, that is largely compressed. Instead we watch them sneaking the supplies into the building, hiding from the guards, attaching the cables (main and stabilizers), and the Walk.

The camera follows Philippe out over the Void, looking down that vast distance, too far to even register in the 3D projection, and follows him as he walks back and forth, teasingly avoids the cops at either end, and puts his show 1300' in the air.

I've read that some people have felt vertigo and nausea watching this, but I did not feel anything approaching that. The projection was pretty sharp for 3D, in close-ups of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's face, I could see that he was wearing contacts, but the most I was jolted was an early scene where a young Philippe has a rope snap on him. That incident prompts him to seek lessons from a professional, Papa Rudy, who is not in the documentary.

Apparently Philippe taught Gordon-Levitt to tight-rope walk for the film. In the time he spends walking for the camera, Gordon-Levitt looks a total natural. Clearly it was a casting / teaching job well done.