what i'm watching: 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.

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