30 Aug 2008 11:48 am   //   Filed under: Movies, Review

Walking the high wire

Saw the new documentary Man On Wire yesterday. It’s about the French tightrope-walker and his friends who sneaked onto the roofs of the World Trade Center in 1974, strung a cable between the towers, and performed a high-wire act for the surprised and delighted crowd below.

Lately I’ve been paying closer attention to the different ways of telling a story in a documentary. This movie has no narrator, just the voices of the participants retelling the events. The filmmakers interject their own comment and sense of humor using music and editing. This film uses actors to recreate scenes that were never filmed originally, which sounds sneaky but serves the story well.

Any work of nonfiction succeeds or fails based on how good the material is. In this case, it’s a brilliant and simple story with some universal themes. It’s about taking a reckless risk for art, about chasing an obsession, and about craving some intense experience in a world engineered to be safe and comfortable. It’s also about success: He did it!

Unmentioned in the film is what happened to those towers. That seems like a missing piece of the story, but on the other hand, what are they going to say about it that the audience doesn’t already know?