2.18.2009

man on wire

Have you seen the movie "Man On Wire"? This is truly a must-see.

"Man On Wire" is a documentary about Philippe Petit's high-wire performance between the towers of the World Trade Center. It recounts the years of preparation that preceded it, Petit's performances that led up to his New York adventure, and the execution of the astounding act itself. The movie is beautifully done, especially the inventive re-creations and the music. The DVD extras include an enlightening interview with Petit, and an animated film about the event.

One of the many things I loved was how some of Petit's greatest performances - between the spires of Notre Dame de Paris, between the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and of course between the Twin Towers - couldn't be publicized or advertised in advance. The acts had to be planned surreptitiously, and performed with absolutely no hype. The audience was whoever was lucky enough to be there. To me, there is something so beautiful about that, and so pure.

Petit gave passers-by an opportunity to witness something astonishing, something fantastical. The audience wasn't people who could afford tickets, or who could fly to Paris to be at the right place at the right time. Just whoever was there. A piece of living art thrown into a universe of random chance, for ordinary people to collect and treasure.

In the movie, there's a clip from some news footage after the World Trade Center event, from one of the police who was on the roof trying to get Petit to come in. He says (something like), "I felt like I was seeing something that no one will ever see again. Really a once in a lifetime thing." You can see and hear how moved he was by the moment, this ordinary man, witnessing the extraordinary.

Of course his words have another layer of meaning now. He could never have known how ephemeral that event would be. For some people - for me - the movie has an added poignancy because those buildings are gone.

More than anything, "Man On Wire" is about a man's obsession, his boundless creativity, and in the end, the human creative spirit. The movie is - Petit is - breathtaking.

14 comments:

Sarah O. said...

Have you seen the movie "Man On Wire"

Ha! I took one look at that poster and my heart started pounding and my palms got sweaty. I decided to be brave so I forced myself to look at the picture for one minute. That was long enough.

Then I made myself forget all about it. Until today. Now where's that chamomile tea gone to?

L-girl said...

Allan is also afraid of heights (I assume that's what you mean), but he really liked the movie too. They don't try to put you up there with Petit - it's not like a roller coaster movie that has you on the ride.

On the other hand, if the poster makes your palm sweat, maybe not!

Sarah O. said...

Well I'm actually pretty good if it's me walking across the Macdonald bridge in Halifax, or standing near the edge of a cliff (just don't ask me to drop a tissue or a penny from it). My fear is all in the anticipation/imagination, which is why watching movies or seeing pictures is worse than actually physically being high up (I have absolutely no fear of flying, and I also like roller coasters).

However, I did like learning about Philippe Petit. His audacity really is inspiring. I like being reminded about the better extremes of human potential. We tend to live on the ground for too much of our lives. I like people who turn their heads up and look at the sky.

L-girl said...

My fear is all in the anticipation/imagination, which is why watching movies or seeing pictures is worse than actually physically being high up

Interesting!

However, I did like learning about Philippe Petit. His audacity really is inspiring. I like being reminded about the better extremes of human potential. We tend to live on the ground for too much of our lives. I like people who turn their heads up and look at the sky.

Ah, you will really enjoy this movie. That's exactly what it's about.

Petit talks about living intensely every day, how that doesn't just happen to you, how you have to work for it. He is not a "dare devil", he does not have a death wish, he obviously loves life and wants to continue living. He is an artist and for him that means always challenging himself and his art.

Listening to him was absolutely inspiring.

richard said...

I was only 12 when M. Petit did his WTC walk but I remember seeing something about it on the news. It was the first time I had even heard of the Twin Towers. Later the Readers' Digest told me of the Cloak and Dagger-ish preparation and I became fascinated by it all. The next summer my parents took us to NYC and standing in the WTC roof deck, thinking of Philippe Petit's exploit and trying to re-create the scene (where was the cable hooked up?; the flight of the arrow from one tower to the other; etc), was a highlight. I will certainly see the film, Laura. Thanks for the recomendation.

James said...

Petit was a "Not My Job" guest on NPR's news panel game, Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me, a couple of weeks back. The archive of the episode isn't up yet, though.

L-girl said...

Richard, I was 13. I lived in the suburbs of NYC, and we used to see the progress of the towers going up as we drove on various highways. I remember the news when Petit did the walk, but I never read or heard about it again. You'll really enjoy the film.

James, thanks - great idea for a guest.

redsock said...

I have rarely been this excited to see a movie. I really wanted to see it in a theater with a big screen, but it was probably around for two days or something. (And it was not quite as good as I had hoped, though my expectations were very, very high.)

I was on the roof/observation deck twice (maybe three times?). It was a little square in the middle of the roof, nowhere near the edge -- and the first time out there, I was terrified. I didn't want to not go out there, but I clung to the inner wall of the square the entire time. The next time was easier.

And looking down from inside, from 110 floors up, was just as frightening. (How strong is this pane of glass?) I can't help but think of the dozens of people who chose to jump from that height to what they believed would be a quicker death than being burned alive.

What he did seems, even now, literally impossible. Really, how is it possible to do that?

Possible spoiler (but probably not) below:

















He made the walk between the towers EIGHT TIMES -- EIGHT!!!! He was out there for 45 MINUTES!!!! He knelt down on the wire. Did he lay down on his back? I can't recall now. They don't say much about the wind, so maybe it was relatively mild that morning, but I remember it being strong when I was up there. And he had no way to practice walking in a wind like that.

He says at one point he did something he never does, usually -- while out on the wire, he looked down. !!! He said he knew he'd never walking on a wire a quarter-mile in the air again.

I could have sworn there was video of it, but there was none in the movie.

L-girl said...

He did lay down on his back. He also knelt down and made a flourish with one arm.

And he said he looked down. All the way down.

It is absolutely a tribute to the far reaches of what is possible.

jimmoore said...

Every one thinks that there was a movie of his walk. The photographer/friend of Petit that made the walk possible by heaving the cable all night long after it fell into the abyss had a 16mm movie camera with him but he was a photographer. So his first impulse after working all night long was to make sure he got photographs of Petit on the wire that he had rigged.
Once he got the that done he was arrested and was not able to shoot the 16mm movie camera.

L-girl said...

You are the Jim Moore from the movie! Thanks for stopping by.

L-girl said...

You know what I find interesting? Petit had done several other performances that, had he fallen, would have meant certain death. If he had fallen from the spires of Notre Dame or from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, he would have died, no? I believe so.

Yet this walk, a quarter-mile in the air, leaves us more amazed, more astounded, more breathless. Even though the consequences of failure for any of these would have been (I think) the same.

The idea of this is so much more audacious, so much more "crazy" (for lack of a better word). So much more impossible. The act itself - according to interviews with Petit - is the same.

That is interesting to me.

jimmoore said...

Philippe is quite a character. His main intent is to get public recognition and he is willing to put his life on the wire to do so. I have spent many hours talking with him and quite frankly he is a very simple person. I see him as a 'Chauncey Garderer' from the film BEING THERE...he wants to be profound but his comments are quite simple and didactic. 'Live your life on the wire.' He is an amazing highwire walker and refuses to be labeled 'dare devil'. His own reason for that is he considers himself a master of the HighWire and not someone just doing 'stunts'. Had he been a 'daredevil' he would only have had to make one crossing that day.
But he crossed 8 times and established his command of his art form. I am glad to have been a part of that adventure....

L-girl said...

"His main intent is to get public recognition"

That is an accusation frequently made against performers and artists of all types. Most artists want recognition, but I think it's a very basic misunderstanding of art to say that public recognition is an artist's main intent.

When I was watching the movie, I thought of Christo several times. Some people ignorantly called The Gates "a publicity stunt". I would put this in the same category - a failure to understand the human imagination.

"I have spent many hours talking with him and quite frankly he is a very simple person. I see him as a 'Chauncey Garderer' from the film BEING THERE...he wants to be profound but his comments are quite simple and didactic."

Chauncey Gardiner is a simpleton who does nothing and whose nothing-ness is misinterpreted as profundity. It's difficult to see the analogy, since Petite clearly does things that no other human has.

I found his comments in the film and the interview quite profound. And sometimes simple, but that does not mean simplistic. Some very profound philosophy can be very simple.

Whether or not Petite is a good or interesting person personally, off-stage, is a different story, and largely irrelevant to his art. But that he creates something beautiful and extraordinary is unquestionable, in my opinion.