Man on Wire (1974)

Published on by Ismael's Film Analysis Blog

Man on Wire (1974)


Man on Wire is quite an incredible documentary by James Marsh. Its subject is Philippe Petit, the French wirewalker who, on Aug. 7, 1974, spent almost an hour walking 1.300 feet above ground between the two 'Twin Towers' in New York City. What makes this documentary so incredible is, that Marsh manages to include interviews and testimonies from loyal friends and co-conspirators at the time. Including Petit's girlfriend at the time Annie Allix and several other American and French friends, who helped him out with the stunt, as they talk about all the logistics and legal issues involved.


Great documentaries, and this is one, require not only great subjects but rich supporting evidence. "Man on Wire" fills the bill with stirring footage of the World Trade Center under construction, intercut with sequences of Philippe assisted by his friends as he practices for the Twin Towers wire walk. It is incredibly compelling and at times you as the audience tend to be on the edge of your seat, as Petit walks on a rope that high up in the air.





Performances and Characters (Man on Wire)


Phillippe Petit in this documentary is quite an interesting character, whom tends to be too obsessed with the Twin Towers. His dream of walking across them started even before the completion of their construction and again and again in this documentary he reminds the audience the love and respect he has for the stunt, and how it has been a life long ambition of his. The film itself is quite emotional, I mean death really was a possibility in this, and you tend to feel that emotion from other characters too, such as, his girlfriend Annie Alix and other team members. In one scene I remember Petit saying “I cannot just calmly recall the adventure”, “I have to relive it truly”, which again illustrates the fact that this stunt really had an impact on his life ever after.



Characters and Performances


In a motion picture or a documentary it is often a specific character or performance, which captivates the audience. Films, such as, Taxi Driver starring Robert De Niro would not be so iconic without the incredibly and surreal performance by a young Mr De Niro. Battling his own demons and trying his very best to make sense of his life even though he is psychotic and unstable. And who can forget Will Smith in 'The Pursuit of Happiness', where he plays a single father struggling to keep a roof over his child's head, whilst also trying desperately to provide for him and give the both of them a stable future.


My personal favorite has got to be Denzel Washington in the crime-drama 'Training Day', where he plays a corrupt detective who lives off robbing from hardcore criminals and in return being protected by corrupt law makers in the city of Los Angeles. An unaware Ethan Hawk, who in the film plays is assistant slowly but surely puts all the dots together and figures out just how corrupt Denzel is and decides to put an end to his crimes, however finds himself in the center of it all when is tricked into assisting a murder.


Often a character starts a story with very little information attached to his/hers name and slowly throughout that story is developed into an interesting character, whom in return either captivates or disgusts the audience. It is like putting together a big puzzle, always adding onto what you already have and hardly ever compromising and this is the role of the script writer and in the case of motion picture, a director does his very best to capture this storyline on camera.


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Examples of what makes a character:

  • Script

  • Performances

  • Convention

  • Star Persona

  • Relationship with the audience

  • Gender, Race, Class, Ethnicity etc

  • Recognition and fame status

  • Point of view etc


    (Bibliorgraphy - Jonathan Bignell - an introduction to television studies)


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