The Red Right Hand

1974. 1350 Feet Up. The Artistic Crime Of The Century

James Marsh

Philippe Petit
Jean Francois Heckel
Annie Allix

I don't often review documentaries; I enjoy them immensely but I'm not usually given the opportunity to voice my opinion of them. In a sense, this is more than just a talking heads documentary, it's a subtle combination of an eccentric character study, a heist film and a biopic. The film focuses, primarily, on a 1974 criminal act that was never designed to hurt anyone or anything. Stupidly talented French tightrope walker, Philippe Petit tells his story about walking a wire between the two spires of Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, all the while planning to walk the gap between the newly built twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York.

This is a proper audience flick, best viewed with a cinema of maturely minded people. My screening audience laughed, held their open mouths as they gasped and greatly enjoyed a thoroughly engrossing experience. This would probably explain why Man On Wire won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Both the visual style and the editing of home-video footage were extremely well executed and slowly built a growing air of tension and concern for the climactic final act. The score was also interesting, utilising commonly used classical pieces in a highly effective way.

I did have a few niggles but these were mere, minor complaints. French arrogance was one of them. I know that's just blatant racism but I live in England, so I believe it is a birthright for me to bad-mouth our eastern neighbours whenever I feel I must. It was quite humorous to hear a rather mad Frenchman belting out, "It was as if this tower was built for me" and "I saw the towers and thought, oh yes, that is what they are there for; for Philippe to walk between." Right... and I imagine the offices inside were just for show to warrant them building it in the first place - whatever you say. I also had issue with the lack of back-story which never really addressed Philippe's background or upbringing (other than he climbed on things and nothing/no one could stop him) but the burning question in my mind was how did he fund his stunts? The seventies wasn't exactly the age of the jet-setter and each wire cable cost around $1000. Having said that, it's irrelevant to the story so it doesn't really matter that much; just a personal gripe. My final issue of complaint was regarding the inflated melodrama of the whole thing. It's only human to question the why of the action (a question which was answered in a typically French fashion, "Why? Why? There is no why") but I suppose that takes away from the magic of the whole thing, so such matters are probably best left in my cranky cranium.

No doubt some will claim it's a profoundly moving piece or enthralling or whatever but that would probably only be in reflection of the loss of the twin towers. In truth, it is a very entertaining and unique film that certainly deserves to be viewed.

Release Date:
1st August 2008

The Scene To Look Out For:
The scene to look out for is actually one that is completely absent; refreshingly so, actually. At no point is the destruction of the towers discussed, addressed or even mentioned. A task which is quite difficult considering the large amount of spying on the security protocols of the WTC but it was never treated as an ominous thing. Any time the criminal element or prospect of jail came into view it was dealt with in an almost slapstick comedic fashion to great effect. I genuinely feel that this film is a celebration of the artistic panache and talent of a wirewalker but also a celebration of a manmade structure. If you're looking for a good film about the World Trade Centre, I would wholeheartedly recommend this movie.

Notable Characters:
Philippe Petit himself, in archive footage, photography and contemporary interviews is a completely amazing and memorable character; determined, driven, eccentric, inspiring and hilariously entertaining. He is, at heart, a performer and putting him on-screen seems one of the most simple and obvious of conclusions.

Highlighted Quote:
"The judge said if you juggle three or four things, oranges or something - so New York can see - we'll drop all charges. And I said ok"

In A Few Words:
"Captivating documentary about something truly unique in a genre flooded with features focusing on war and terrorism"

Total Score:

Matthew Stogdon