Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Man on Wire (4 Stars)

"If I die, what a beautiful death to die in the exercise of your passion".

On August 7th, 1974 Philippe Petit walked on a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center. He walked backwards and forwards eight times, including performing stunts such as sitting and lying down on the wire, 400 meters above the ground. This was highly illegal, of course. When he was arrested the description of his crime, as shown in the photocopy of the police report, was "man on wire".

Philippe Petit was risking his life. He had carried out similar stunts in the past, such as walking a wire between the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but this was the biggest and the most dangerous. He could have died, but he didn't care. The excitement of walking the wire, if only for a few seconds, would have made it worth while.

"The Walk", a film about this same stunt starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, was my favourite English language film of 2015. I intend to watch it tomorrow, so I thought I would watch the documentary first. The film is about the whole of Petit's life, whereas the documentary concentrates on the one walk and only briefly touches his previous life, so it gives a lot more detail about the planning and mechanics of August 1974. There are a few incidents that I don't remember being mentioned in the film, such as Petit's sexual encounter with a stranger on the day he came out of the courthouse, but I need to watch the film again to refresh my memory.

"Man on Wire" has the honour of being the second highest rated film on the Rotten Tomatoes site. It has a 100% positive rating out of 154 reviews. The top film is "Toy Story 2", with a 100% rating out of 163 reviews, so it comes a close second. I'm not saying this because I put great value in the Rotten Tomatoes site. The reviewers are a collection of professional critics who judge films on their artistic value, rather than whether they are entertaining. A better system, and a more accurate rating, would be a mix of professional and amateur critics.

Some of my friends use the Rotten Tomato rating to decide whether or not to see a film in the cinema. That's foolish. Even if we accept the validity of the Rotten Tomatoes reviews, a 25% rating doesn't mean that it's a bad film, it means that 25% of the reviewers enjoyed it, so my foolish friends might belong to that 25%. But I don't accept the validity. To take a recent example, "The Witch" has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but it's an awful film. I went to the film in a group of 13 people, and only one of us liked it, so we would have given it an 8% rating. The Birmingham Film Club rating is more reliable than Rotten Tomatoes.

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