Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Academy's ode to America

It would have been surprising, if not shocking, had Man on Wire not won the Oscar for Best Documentary. Which doesn’t mean to say it’s a great documentary. Far from it. This small ode to the Twin Towers, is a film which has everything America needs at the moment. The film is about a Frenchman who has a dream, and his dream is only realizeable in America. Philippe Petit’s successful walk between the towers of Notre Dame is shown as a precursor to the “dance” between the Twin Towers. And because it’s a Frenchman, in the new era of reaching out and creating positive links with foreign (especially European) partners, the ode to the space between otherwise unbridged towers, might mirror the space between America and France. Connecting these two countries is clearly a good thing for Hollywood.

It’s also a film which pays homage to the sheer beauty and mystical magic of the two towers that once soared into the Manhattan sky. Much memorializing and remembrance has been done for those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, as it should be. And here we have a film that celebrates and re-mystifies the skyscrapers in all their inability to be replicated. In fact, the whole film is really about about how Petit is going to rig the wire between the north and the south towers without being seen. And so, as much as anything else, the film becomes an intimate exploration of the structure, fabrics, logistics and dimensions of the towers themselves. Now that they are no longer with us, every girder, crevice and unsightly concrete slab is a mysterious work of art. The film doesn’t show this, but any closeup on the twin towers in a post-9/11 world is going to have that affect on its viewer.

Man on Wire is a film about a Frenchman living the American dream: if you can dream it, it is always possible. Philippe Petit reinforces the “anything is possible” attitude of America. The fact that the dream was to break through all the security structures of the World Trade Center and rig wires in the dark – a dream that takes around ten years to realize, is an added bonus for the Oscars. Because by doing this, the film demonstrates the undoing of the violation of the same structures in 2001 – Petit and his friends and associates did it in the name of the beauty of the buildings and the triumph of a transcendental peace and connection between people. The perfect message for 2009.

Together with Kate Winslet, Danny Boyle and all those Indians up there on stage at the Kodak Theater, it is so fabulous to see the Academy reaching beyond its own shores. But make no mistake, Man on Wire is all about America.

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