05th Jun2017

Movies to Show My Son: ‘Man On Wire’

by Dan Clark

Welcome to another installment of Movies to Show My Son. This is the blog series were I discuss movies I can’t wait to show my son in the future. I’ll be covering my own personal experience with the movie, movie and life lessons I hope he will learn, and lastly my concerns about showing said film. This week’s film is Man on Wire.

Personal Memories:

In the article centered on The King of Kong I mentioned how I was reluctant to get into the medium of documentaries. That film helped me realize just how darn entertaining a documentary can actually be, while Man on Wire demonstrated the power of documentary film making.

This was another film that got on my radar due to podcasting. When I was looking for podcast counting down their top films of the 00’s (because at that time I was obsessed with seeing what people listed as the best of the decade) I stumbled upon Filmspotting. They spoke about this movie Man on Wire with such vigor and emotion I had to check it out.

Thanks again to Netflix streaming it was easy to catch up with. I am afraid to admit it now but I was somewhat hesitant due to my healthy fear of heights. What always surprised me was how I never heard about this story at all. Considering the events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks I was surprised a moment in history like this was not brought up much more. So the suffice level story was enough to catch my interest. Once I finished the film I quickly realized how great of a movie I just witnessed.

Age to Show:

Content wise I do not see someone under the age of 14 finding much to enjoy. I feel the best time to show this film is when my son is he about to tackle what will surely be a life challenge. The one that comes in my mind would be high school graduation and possibly beginning of college. Based on my personal experience movies of this nature tend to resonate with me the most when I can best relate towards its overall message. When you are getting to the age of adulthood and becoming the person you truly are a movie like Man on Wire can really have an impact.

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Movie Lessons:

One of the best film techniques Man on Wire utilizes is the power of reenactments. Usually it is a choice reserved for cheap true crime television shows like Hard Copy because it can come off as rather corny. You tend to get actors who somewhat look like the real people but not enough for it not to be goofy. With Man on Wire he can see it is not the tool but rather how it is used.

Personally I prefer documentaries that rely on archived footage rather than recreations. Some of my all time favorites are films like Senna or Let the Fire Burn that rely solely on previous footage. I am majorly impressed how a story can be woven editing all these video puzzle pieces to form one cohesive story. Especially when the story took place long before now when the amount of cameras have exploded and documenting your life has become the norm.

What happens though when none of that footage exists? Sure you can just rely on talking heads or animated recreations but they do not always put you exactly in the moment. That is when a dramatic reenactment can be utilized. What Man on Wire demonstrates is how to use that method effectively. For one they are shot beautifully to the point you forget you are not actually watching real life footage.

My hope is this can then be compared to instances with this same method is used ineffectively. Discussion can be focused on what exactly makes it work so well in one instance and so poorly in another. I hear critics often boast about how well directed a movie was and rarely is it explained what is meant by that. Speaking with fans of film it does seem there is a different take on what that measure of praise really means. That’s when comparing specific techniques like this can be helpful. You can see vividly how factors outside the obvious like performances or story can impact the quality of the film.

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Life Lessons:

Man on Wire is one of those life-affirming movies that demonstrate the joy and beauty that can occur through human achievement. How inspiration can be found in some of the most unexpected areas from some of the world most unique individuals. In a world fill of negativity it is a welcome to watch something like this that can lift your spirits.

The major lesson here is that in order to accomplish something special you will need to take some risks. If you are able to muster up enough internal strength you can overcome those risks and challenges to bask in the glorious reward. For some that risk could be walking across a tight rope in-between the two tallest buildings in the world, or something much more grounded and hopefully far less dangerous.

Philippe Petit is also a very relatable character for teenagers. While teenagers today or in the future aren’t into tight rope walking, in a more general sense living a world that does not quite understand you is the everyday reality of many of them. With this film you can learn it is perfectly okay to be odd and different. If you are true to yourself you will ultimately live a happier life. You will stumble and fall there is no doubt. When you do people will be there to point out your failures, but at the end of the day you have to keep walking otherwise you will be stuck on the ground looking up at the success of others.

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Concerns:

In the area of very unlikely concern I hope my son does not watch this and walk away thinking he now needs to climb skysrappers for a living. I know it may seem insane but there is a growing movement out there of people who climb the tallest buildings in the world with no equipment in order to take the best Instgram photos. Unlike Philippe Petit what propels them to do this risky endeavor is far less meaningful. Call me crazy but I don’t see a critically acclaimed documentary being made about their explorations years later.

As mentioned this shows achievement requires risk, however it may also set up a gigantic set of false expectations. Expectations that may lead someone to believe things will always work out at the end, or that sheer will is enough to overcome impossible odds. The truth is that is very rarely the case. This story was a series of unlikely events that went right. Call it a miracle or call it luck this should never have happened. Most of the time when you risk this much things do not end well.

I hope my son does not get the wrong impression thinking it is as simple as the more you risk the more you achieve. Fittingly it’s about balance and knowing the risks involved and being able to live with the negative consequences. Also it is key to have a discussion regarding what Philippe Petit did. Is it okay to bend and in some case straight-up break the rules to achieve something meaningful? Should you work with the rules that are there, or are there times when shortcuts are absolutely necessary? Philippe Petit’s story is an example of the best possible outcome. The key will be also pointing to similar stories that did not have fairy tale endings.

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