man on wire

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9/11 Double Feature

I woke up yesterday morning hoping not to think too much, this year, about 9/11. The Internets put an end to that, though, in the form of emails from friends and family, blog posts, and the newspaper. Maybe it should be an unplugged day from here on out. Then again, the calls and emails from friends remind me that there’s a lot to celebrate — and to be grateful for.

So I stopped my whining about not wanting to remember (Emerson: “What opium is instilled in all disaster?”) and left the office a couple hours early to catch a matinée showing of Man on Wire.

What a perfect thing to do on the afternoon of a 9/11 anniversary. I have to admit, it was tough at first to watch all the footage of the Twin Towers being assembled. Those big waffle-wafers dangling from cranes look in retrospect like so much gingerbread! And the idea of being perched that high can’t help but bring the jumpers to mind. But something about Phillipe Petit’s giddy storytelling, the relentless egotism that fueled his wire-walking caper, and perhaps most of all the fact that he survived to tell the tale, ultimately constitutes a joyful remembrance of the buildings, even if 9/11 is never overtly referenced.

Something I hadn’t expected, though: The film is as much about memory — about the 30 years that separate the event and the retelling we witness — as it is about the original events.  It’s also about art. And most surprising of all it’s about the relationships among the people who plotted with Petit and helped him pull it off — about the damage done by an ego large enough to think up such a spectacular stunt. I’m not sure the storytellers intended it to go that way, but the film making itself is masterful, and I think the director ultimately put together a much richer story than the adventure narrative he may have set out to recount.

Much later in the evening, SSW and I went to see a film one of her high school friends (from an exchange student experience in Germany) had a hand in making. Able Danger, showing for the next week or so at Two Boots Pioneer Theater, may be the only film in existence that can claim the generic designation as “9/11 action comedy/noir homage.” Its central character is based on Sander Hicks, owner of Brooklyn coffee shop/publishing house Vox Pop, which features prominently in the film, along with other neighborhood landmarks.

Reimagining Hicks as a hipster/geek superhero/secret agent, the film asks what would happen if Hicks’s self-published book,  The Big Wedding: 9/11, The Whistle Blowers, and the Cover Up, actually resulted in the FBI and neo-Nazi nutjobs chasing him through Brooklyn on his bike. The comedic referencing of Maltese Falcons, MacGuffin devices, Great Whatsits and other noir staples take the edge off what could have slipped too close to paranoid “truthie” earnestness, though there’s enough of the latter to send you home from a fun night at an indie film and deep into Google’s recesses.

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