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Page last updated at 08:54 GMT, Saturday, 2 August 2008 09:54 UK E-mail this to a friend Printable version

Wire-walk film omits 9/11 tragedy

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News
Petit crossed eight times between the Towers, 1,350 feet above the ground
The director of a film about the Frenchman who wire-walked between the Twin Towers in 1974 explains why 9/11 plays no part in his documentary.

French tightrope walker Philippe Petit audaciously crossed from one tower to the other on the morning of 7 August, 1974.

That never-to-be-repeated feat has now inspired a feature-length documentary, Man on Wire, in which Petit and his co-conspirators detail the planning and execution of their remarkable coup.

One thing absent from the film, though, is the World Trade Center's eventual fate, destroyed by hijacked planes in a terrorist attack on on 11 September, 2001.

But it was a move the film's British director James Marsh calls "an easy choice to make".


"What Philippe did was incredibly beautiful," he explains. "It may have been illegal, but it was not in any way destructive.

"It would be unfair and wrong to infect his story with any mention, discussion or imagery of the Towers being destroyed."

Star and director talk about Man on Wire

"Everyone knows what happened to those buildings," continues the film-maker, who has lived in New York for 14 years and was in the city when the Towers were attacked.

"The film has a poignancy for that reason, but not one that needs to be overstated."

Petit escaped prosecution for his high-wire stunt. Indeed, his only 'punishment' was being made to perform for children in New York's Central Park.

He was even rewarded for his bravery with a lifetime pass to the Twin Towers' observation deck.

The performer, now a robust 58, can hardly have imagined that his lifetime would exceed that of the World Trade Center itself.

"If you were there at the time and had to choose between who was going to survive the longest, you certainly would have chosen the Towers," Marsh agrees.


Recent cinematic depictions of the World Trade Center have inevitably been coloured by the knowledge of their collapse.

Steven Spielberg's Munich, for example, fades out on the Towers, suggesting the events of his film - about an Israeli plot to hunt down and assassinate Palestinian terrorists - prefigured their demise.

The film was screened in Edinburgh in June

A trailer for the first Spider-Man film, released in 2002, was withdrawn because it showed a helicopter being ensnared in a giant web spun between the Towers.

Spike Lee's The 25th Hour, meanwhile, opens with the two beams of light lit that year in memory of those who died.

Will Man on Wire offer a form of closure for those bereaved? Marsh says he would "love to think it could".

"On a personal level, I was able to engage with this story and get over the appalling dimensions of that tragedy," he explained.

"I think it is possible to enjoy those buildings for the duration of the film, hopefully without that enjoyment being too infected by an awareness of their destruction."

Having launched Man on Wire at this year's Sundance Film Festival in Utah, Marsh has seen his documentary elicit a variety of responses.


When screened in New York, for example, he recalls the occasion being "very intense and emotional".

"A lot of people were very moved, I think because of what the film evoked of New York in a different era," the director elaborates.

Sir Sean Connery led the applause when Man on Wire played in Scotland Presenting the documentary at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June, though, was memorable for a different reason.

"I came out to do a question and answer session, introducing Philippe who was hiding at the back of the cinema," Marsh recalls.

"He came bounding down and Sir Sean Connery, who was in the audience, led what was essentially a standing ovation.

"Sir Sean then got up and said it was one of the three best films he had ever seen," Marsh declares proudly.

"It was one of the best moments of my life, and a wonderful moment for all of us."

Man on Wire opens in the UK on 1 August.

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