Thursday, December 11, 2008

Film Review: MAN ON WIRE (2008, James Marsh)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Philippe Petit, Michael Nyman.
Tag-line: " 1974. 1350 feet up. The artistic crime of the century."
Awards: Best British Doc at British Film Awards, Best Documentary at Karlovy Vary Film Festival, National Board of Review Best Documentary, Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, nominated for many forthcoming awards.

Everyone seems to love MAN ON WIRE. It's one of the best reviewed films of 2008, and there's a reason for that. It's extraordinarily well done, exhilarating, and suspenseful. But let me tell you how it falls short of being a masterpiece. I'm not denying that it's a very enjoyable, well-crafted film; I'm just going to toss in 3 talking points that bring this majority consensus into slight question.

#1, and most trivial, Impact font.

Why Impact font? I think it's safe to say that if I was constructing a main title sequence for a film, I would only choose Impact if my only choices were Impact and Wingdings. I would even prefer Chalkboard. Or that Party font that the elderly use for their brunch invitations.

#2, the music. This film uses Michael Nyman music- it is not scored by Michael Nyman. Nyman is one of my favorite working composers, and indeed all this music has been used the late 80's films of Peter Greenaway. I'm sure the music works if you haven't seen any Greenaway, but it's not good if your wirewalking documentary keeps making me vividly visualize scenes from DROWNING BY NUMBERS and THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE, AND HER LOVER.

#3, Philippe Petit is a dick.

The Man on Wire himself, whom the film so lovingly lionizes (which is the only reason I take issue), is totally a dick. What he did is amazing, inspirational, etc., but as soon as he accomplished his goal, he cast aside his girlfriend and close friends who had supported him for years, literally and figuratively. Plus, where did he get all the money? (The movie insinuates that he came from a privileged background.) He had no job and managed to tool around in his backyard for years, afforded several trans-Atlantic journeys to NYC, rented a helicopter, and several times over paid for thousands of dollars worth of specialized wirewalking equipment. Eh. Anyway, just a few things to think about before you crown this 'King of Cinema.' But don't get the wrong idea- 4 stars and well worth seeing.

-Sean Gill


Anonymous said...

So true. Man on Wire is a masterpiece for anyone who falls for the obvious documentary cliches that this documentary is full of.

If anyone wants to see a true masterpiece of a documentary that doesn't go for the obvious "nominated for cannes" mass marketed gunk we get fed nowadays as though it's independent and artistic, please check out:

1) Capturing the Friedmans
2) Dark Days
3) Big Rig
4) Scratch

These documentaries have real, deep subject matter. Although walking across the twin towers is cool, that's all it is. When you have money and bravery / stupidity you can do anything.

What if the guy fell while doing the san francisco walk? Not only would he die, but also innocent drivers under the bridge.

We are slowly being marketed to in every niche and everything new so-called indie movie with major distribution we are told is a "masterpiece" and "monimated for cannes" or "artistic" when we can demonstrate that it is not.

Anonymous said...

You say Impact, I say Haettenschweiler. Just as you probably think Arial when others think Helvetica.

Sean Gill said...

Yet I feel as if we could have a few beers together and reach a consensus on Comic Sans.