Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Man On Wire" with Philippe Petit

So much has been written about the World Trade Center since 9/11. And all of it, has been sad, or negative, focused on the tragedy that occurred there that day. So, what a delight it is to watch a film that celebrates one of the most fascinating moments in the World Trade Center's History. The moment in which she became part of advant garde art through the daring of French "event" artist Philippe Petit.

I watched the WTC being built, along with my friends. We would take the subway and go to Manhattan, watching as the ground was broken and the towers began to rise. We were there for the Vietnam Protests, when the Carpenters came down into the crowd, swinging hammers while the police stood by with their backs turned. So, I have a lot of memories tied up in that building prior to 9/11.

On August 9, 1974 I was working at H and A Foods on Kings Highway in Brooklyn. The radio was on, as always. An announcement was made concerning a man "walking" a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center. At that moment, Harry, one of the owners of H and A Foods, came running downstairs from his office, screaming about what he had just seen/heard on TV.

This film deals with every aspect of that day. From the moment Philippe Petit read of the plans to build the World Trade Center, he dreamt of walking a wire between the two towers. The film contains footage of a young Philippe Petit learning to walk the tightrope with his girlfiend. He goes on to walk the towers between the bridge in Sydney Harbor, as well as walking between two towers in England. When he reads that the top floors of the World Trade Center have finally been completed, he goes to New York to plan his feat of artistry.

With some trusted friends, and lax security, he is able to get all of the gear up to the 104th floor of both towers. Now the wire must be sent over from one tower to the other. This is no small feat, especially while working under the cover of darkness with security patrols making the rounds!

The distance between the corners of the two towers was about 300 feet, but getting the cable across would take a cross bow in the dead of night to send the wire over. After loosing hold of the cable and then having to haul it back up by hand, Mr. Petit then waited for the day to dawn and the streets below to be filled with people before stepping out on his wire. This link captures some of the aerial footage taken by a traffic reporter.

When all was said and done, Philippe had crossed the wire 8 times, each time coming close to being grabbed by officers who were waiting at both ends. He would laugh, turn around and dance out to the middle again, sometimes even laying himself down on the wire. He swears that he could both "hear and feel" the crowd below, although he knows that this is not possible, merely a perception, a by product of the adreneline rush that came of his feat.

In all, Philippe Petit was on that wire for about 45 minutes, creating a living work of art, that, while fleeting and ethereal, is real enough to still be thrilling today. This is the way I prefer to remember the World Trade Center. As the work of art that it was.

This film captures all of the excitement that was New York in the 1970's. It also captures the thrill of Philippe Petit. Eventually he comes off the wire, is arrested and taken to Beekman Hospital for a pyschiatric evaluation. He is found to be sane, charged with Trespassing, fined $25 and ordered to give a children's performance in the park for his crime.

This film will take some of the sting out of 9/11 if you let it. When we had it, we had it good. When Philippe Petit did what he did, he did it for all of us. Until I saw this film I never really understood "living art." Watch this film at night before going to sleep - it will affect your whole outlook the next day. That's what this film did for me.

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