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January 22, 2009

James Marsh does 'Wire' act


A chat with your resident Gold Rusher is the only thing standing between Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker James Marsh and his impossible-to-forget subject, the insanely talented and brazen tightrope walker Phillippe Petit.

"Since the film celebrates something he achieved, this recognition should be as much for him as for me," Marsh said from his home in Copenhagen today, shortly after learning he's among the contenders for the best documentary Oscar. "I'll have to call him as soon as I can."

Not so fast, friend. We were so thrilled to have Marsh on the phone that we made him our latest Q&A victim. (We're not completely heartless -- we only kept him for about a half hour!)

GR: Since Petit is such an exuberant presence, so over-the-top and expressive, was there ever a time during this project that you just wanted to tell him to put a sock in it?

80871705 JM: No! I really wanted him to go further. To have a documentary subject whose recollections are so visceral is just amazing. I really enjoyed having him re-enact some of the events for me. I encouraged it!

GR: Do you second-guess yourself on the decision not to include any references to 9/11 in the film?

JM: It was a defining choice for me to tell Phillippe's story in a very pure way. I was of course very aware of the subtext and I know what it brought to the film. But it was about the world we lived in then, the Twin Towers then. I don't regret not making an explicit reference to 9/11. I still feel it was the right choice.

GR: Did you see this as a straight documentary or were you trying to do a genre-bender?

JM: I wanted to make it like a feature, like a heist movie, to use dramatic reconstructions. The structure of the book gave me the idea, and then I opened it up for all these different points of view of the people involved. Whatever genre it's labeled doesn't matter to me.

Marsh, who has bounced back and forth between features and documentaries, is now at work on "Nineteen Eighty," a straight-up thriller about the Yorkshire Ripper that's headed for HBO and/or theatrical release. 

If you haven't seen the stunning "Man on Wire," do so immediately.


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Oscar Contenders

  • So "The Dark Knight" didn't make it into the final five after all, never mind that critical and popular support. Let's just call the comic-inspired mega-hit "The Biggest Snubee."

    Here are the best picture contenders in a race that, two weeks away from the Oscars, seems to be a foregone conclusion ("Slumdog") unless there's a come-from-behind possibility ("The Reader" anyone?)

    "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett; the politically timely "Milk;" rags-to-riches fairy tale, "Slumdog Millionaire," Holocaust best-seller-based drama "The Reader," and Watergate-era biopic "Frost/Nixon."

    Could "Button" and "Slumdog" split the vote, allowing another film to take the prize? Doesn't seem likely. After having clung to "Button" for months as what we thought would be the Academy voters' top vhoice, our money's now on "Slumdog." Momentum can't be ignored.

    Watch this blog for updates, ephemera and all manner of postulating.

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  • Mmmmm, chocolate Oscar. Not every star will walk away from the 81st annual Academy Awards with a trophy, but if they hit the high-profile Governor's Ball they can have pastry chef Sherry Yard's gold-dusted candy version. Also on the menu from celeb chef Wolfgang Puck is tuna tartare in sesame miso cones, chopped Chino Farms vegetable salad with ginger soy vinaigrette, Maine lobster and caviar. Serve it up! (Getty Images)

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