Man On Wire (Mongrel, 2008) D: James Marsh, w/ Philippe Petit. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNN
Abel Raises Cain (Filmswelike, 2005) D: Jenny Abel, Jeff Hockett, w/ Alan Abel, Jeanne Abel. Rating: NN; DVD package: NNN
Either of these is well worth a look. Double-billed they resonate. Each is about an unusual man in pursuit of an unlikely art.
On August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit spent almost an hour walking a wire strung between the tops of the two World Trade Center towers before surrendering to the cops. One onlooker calls it "beautiful and terrifying." Petit calls it "joy and complete freedom." The movie catches both moods and presents an appealing portrait of a man enraptured.
Man On Wire is also a caper flick: the gang, the planning, the trickery, the near-disaster, all enhanced with expressionist black-and-white reconstructions and atmospheric music. In the extras, the same story is told as a light, pretty children's animated short. Here, too, the beauty and terror come through.
There's also ample documentary footage, including Petit's walk over the Cathedral of Notre Dame and a short on his conquest of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Alan Abel has spent his life running hoaxes. He was behind the campaigns to put clothes on animals and outlaw breastfeeding. He has a remarkable talent for fishing the media with plausible foolery.
His daughter, Jenny, and her co-director/boyfriend, Jeff Hockett, have assembled lots of archival instances of Abel plying his calling, and in between they've filmed his daily life and tried to get at what makes Abel and Jeanne, his co-conspirator wife, tick. They're not especially successful, and the film only picks up steam at the one-hour mark.
Abel and Jeanne open up in the commentary, and his methods and humour come across more clearly in the extras. Taken together, movie and extras deliver a solid portrait of a committed satirist.
EXTRAS Man: Petit interview, animated short, Sydney Harbour Bridge crossing short. Widescreen. English, French subtitles. Abel: Commentary, two hoax shorts, comic lecture, deleted scenes. Widescreen.