Understanding Minimalist Film Music: The Case of Man on Wire | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 5, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 1751-4193
  • E-ISSN: 1751-4207



This article sets out to analyse the use of pre-existing minimalist music in film and media by looking at the film documentary Man on Wire. The application of pre-existing music in film has been the subject of recent studies by Stilwell and Powrie (2006), Citron (2011) and Vincent (2011), but the focus has been more on the analysis of pre-existing Classical or pop music than minimalist or post-minimalist styles. During the 1980s and 1990s Michael Nyman’s music was frequently used in a variety of contexts by film directors such as Peter Greenaway and Michael Winterbottom, but James Marsh’s recent Oscar-winning film documentary on the extraordinary life of tightrope walker Philip Petit (which culminated in his walk across the towers of the World Trade Centre in 1974) is the first to draw exhaustively on pre-existing pieces by Nyman. This article contextualises Nyman’s music, and by extension, the minimalist genre in general, by comparing multiple functions of the same music from a variety of films, ranging from The Draughtsman’s Contract, A Zed and Two Noughts, Drowning by Numbers and The Libertine.


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