Monday, November 23, 2015

The Walk (2015)

I need to get out more, but there's a problem. Too often I seem to find myself the grumpy old man in the midst of happy annoying people, especially at the movies. People have always talked and been annoying in movie theaters. I'm not sure exactly why it bothers me more now—maybe the freedoms of watching them at home, including the solitude and peace and quiet, the self-selected interruptions and breaks—for discussion, even, when with people—have spoiled me. Or maybe it's worse out there now—it's true we never had the screens of mobile devices to contend with, but we had smokers for years. Lighters and matches are nearly as bad as those screens for glare, not to mention the carcinogenic risks of secondhand smoke, and the stink. So I decided to embark on a "going out" project in regard to movies. This will enable me, perhaps, to keep up better, and also provide an outlet for when a movie has been affected by a poor viewing experience. I'll talk about the poor viewing experience—that will show them!

Well, as they say, "Man plans, God laughs." The Walk turned out to be only the third movie in my life I've seen in a public screening all by myself (the others are Supergirl in 1984 and Broken Arrow in 1996). It's a bit like throwing a no-hitter, it seems to happen so infrequently as to be a special occasion unto itself, but in all cases I was hedging my bets one way or another. With The Walk I saw it at a Thursday matinee, the day before it was banished from town after an ignominious and dismal two weeks, with the stink of failure on it. Good thing I was alone too, because I sat there bawling for a lot of it. No, not at Joseph Gordon-Levitt's French accent. The movie has problems like crazy, enumerated in the bad reviews. But two active powerful elements were going on for me in The Walk. The first is perhaps personal, though I know it is shared on some connecting points with millions or even billions of others—the World Trade Center Twin Towers, for better or worse, are now the worst features in a haunted, blighted landscape of memory. The image of them implies only their absence, and then the circumstances, and then the fallout, which we are still experiencing, our stupid actions in the world and the fallout. Indeed, people are so troubled by the image of the Twin Towers (though mostly not for my reasons) that it has been systematically airbrushed out of many movies and TV shows in the years since September 11, 2001. As with the 2008 documentary Man on Wire, for which The Walk is a fine complement (and an entirely different movie), a good deal of power lies in casually using exactly that image, affirming the reality that those buildings existed. It's also good at capturing a time when playful acts of anarchy could be taken as noble and beautiful in their daring.

The other point is that The Walk is directed by special effects wizard Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and the Back to the Future trilogy), and thus, paradoxically, one of the things I liked best was that I could hardly stand to look at much of the second half, turning my head, holding up my hand, looking out of the sides of my eyes or through fingers. Philippe Petit, the wire walker, walked back and forth across a line between two points at the top of the world's tallest skyscrapers. We see it in all its vivid CGI reality. It convinced me—my stomach testified to the effectiveness as much as my turned head, and my balls did too. Winds are high up there, and it's way high up there. Petit crossed that line eight times. He laid down on it. It's just tremendous what he did. It's overwhelming. Not just the physical accomplishment (by the way, he had stepped on a nail just a few weeks earlier and the wound had not entirely healed), but doing it as a gesture of beauty and grace. It's the best thing that ever happened to those buildings, we know that at least. Start with Man on Wire. Finish with The Walk. See it on the biggest screen possible. Don't look down.

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