Philippe Petit has blown me away. And so has this film about his life, focused on the day in August,1974, when he walked on a cable stretched between the South Tower and North Tower of the World Trade Center.

I loved the music, graphics, and juxtapositions in this film. Petit is such a clown-like, dancer-like, Kokopelli-like character. The artistic decisions of Man on Wire emphasize contrasts and seem to play against each other–fairy tale on the one hand, extreme reality on the other. You can watch this film as an engineer, an athlete, an artist, or a philosopher. Amazingly, it will thrill you from any of these perspectives. It also manages to blend all of these into a complete, complex, whole.

The interviews with the friends and girlfriend at the end show us the evanescence of both beauty and love–but they also demonstrate that a great work of art is immortal. You may think of Fellini, Charlie Chaplin, even Jesus.

The poignancy of this film comes not only from a skillful rendering of an artistic triumph but also from the presence of absence. No one mentions 9-11, but it is everywhere, especially at the beginning, when we see film from the early 1970’s when workers in hardhats are digging the foundations and laying the first layers of the towers and then again when one picture frames Petit on his wire between the towers and a plane passing by that looks as though it could fly into the tower on the left.

The film was based on Petit’s own memoir, To Reach the Clouds, which I have not read. I think the film was so good I have no need to read the memoir.

I may, however, read the National Book Award-winning Let the Great World Spin, on the recommendation of someone whose literary judgment I trust. I know that Philippe Petit’s story is central to this novel also.

Have you read either of these, seen the film? What are your thoughts?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Joe Smith on January 31, 2010 at 5:19 am

    I have read the memoir and it is very NOT like the film. The film is very well made and crafted for any audience to enjoy. The book is elitist and egomanical. The director James Marsh did a good job of slightly covering up Petit larger than life ego. I suggest you skip the book and read Colum McCann's book. He is a much better writer.

  2. shirleyhs on January 31, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Hi, Joe. Welcome to! I am glad to have your confirmation of my hunch that after watching the film, I don't have to read the book. I am, however, even more interested in Colum McCann's book now! One purpose reviews and recommendations serve is guiding us on how to use our precious time most wisely. I am grateful for both comments.

  3. Jim Moore on February 3, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Joe Smith is quite wrong. James Marsh took his film from Philippe Petit's memoir, which in James's own words is extremely cinematic. Why would you consider reading a novel and not the source? How sad.

  4. shirleyhs on February 3, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Welcome, Jim! I'd love to hear more about Philippe Petit's memoir from you. We don't have to take Joe's word. We want to hear from those who disagree also. I'm even open to reading the memoir. However, I have only three hours/day available for both reading and blogging and have lots of other memoirs to read and write about. So, I end up choosing among good things and having to let some go. Tell me what you loved. I'm sure other readers want to know also.

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