The best Oscar-nominated film with buildings

    Man on Wire - the power of the tall building. How humans can be crazy to build them, and how they can make us do crazy things. As the Tower of Babel shows us. Or is this the story of Icarus? Almost.

    Great film. Only one misstep. Hang on.

    First let me say, I love the man's plastic French face. Like Le Corbusier's plasticity! So expressive.

    I've noticed fewer of these "Charlots" in France over the years, and I hope they always remain.

    Philippe Petit's passion for the iconography of buildings comes through. As soon as he sees a newspaper article about the twin towers to be built in New York, he is impassioned. He must conquer them. "Write poetry" with them, by walking between them on his wire. As if he is inscribing sacred Japanese calligraphy.

    I love how the architectural relationship between the "twin towers" of Paris' Notre Dame cathedral and the twin towers of Manhattan, is made clear. Before stunning New York, Petit had walked across, and laid down on, a wire stretched between the bell towers of Notre-Dame de Paris.

    This documentary ought to win an Oscar on Sunday. The story is great, they talked to real characters, tension builds, but-- just as Batman's Gotham City in Dark Knight was filmed in Chicago,

    (while he's there, can he fight the political corruption?)

    there is one scene in Man on Wire, filmed not in New York, but in Chicago! And it's to show how windy cities can be. Just when you're thinking, "wouldn't it be terribly windy up there?" the documentary makers cut to scenes of citizens on the street of a big city getting blown around. You think it's New York. I wonder if even the European filmmakers knew that this circa 1970's archival footage of "a windy city" was shot, not in New York but in The Windy City. Chicago. Here's the money shot,

    Recognize this corner? I do. It's looking north on Michigan Avenue, at Chicago Avenue. The dark reflective wall on the right is the Walgreens. (I've spent a lot of time there, can you tell? I remember the wooden shack of a newsstand. It was still there last I checked. For years I've thought, they would never allow such a wooden shack for a newsstand in Paris! That's why people love Chicago, right?) Today the I. Magnin is a Borders book store. To the right is the old Water Tower that survived the Chicago Fire. When built in 1869, its 154 foot height must have also inspired awe in the young Philippe Petits, or Phil Littles, of the day.)

    The fellow on the windy Chicago street in the shot above looks like he's floating, as if in a painting by Marc Chagall. Like Philippe Petit, another artist of

    floating in air. We, earthbound, love that imagery.

    Man on Wire also shows in the same "windy city" sequence, a couple walking into the wind at the base of Chicago's John Hancock Building.

    I lived in Paris in the 1970's. I remember the French were mesmerized by the iconography of Manhattan's new twin towers. "Les jumeaux," they called them, "the twins." Pictures of this great manifestation of 1970's American dominance popped up everywhere, such as in ads in the Paris metro. They admired the towers, but this could have also been a call to action. Allons enfants! - for the revitalization of French culture. Were the French suffering some giant and unwarranted inferiority complex? Are they always?

    Today, the Mayor of Paris, misguidedly, wants to build more tall buildings in City of Light. Before the current economic downturn, French officials cleared the way for the first high rise construction since high rise buildings were banned in the city in 1977. Twenty were planned.

    I'd be against most high-rises inside the city limits of Paris. If you must have towers, build nearby. We don't want the world to lose too much of what the French at their best understand better than most. Philippe Petit, and the film Man on Wire remind us of how to make la belle vie, a beautiful life-

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