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Man on Wire 2009/01/17

Posted by Daddy Dave in Reviews.
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This is a super film!

We both watched in amazement at the bravado of Philippe Petit. The film — by James Marsh — turned out to be much better than we expected.  It was well edited, beautifully photographed in colour and monochrome, brilliantly re-enacted and dramatised perfectly — and interspersed with interviews (in French and English) with the culprits.

Basically, Petit’s gang set up a clandestine tightrope walk between the world’s two tallest buildings (at that time). It was a quarter of a mile up, just after 07:15 on 7th August 1974, and Petit was just 25.  He spent 45 minutes walking back and forth on the wire, crossing 8 times, stopping, lying back and dancing — he even had a conversation with a seagull!

His taunting of the police caused him to be roughly manhandled upon his arrest when he came off the wire due to the rain, but the judge let him off as long as he did a juggling act for children.  Petit immediately had rock-star type sex and became a celebrity.

The event changed public perception about Minoru Yamasaki ‘s 110 storey Le Corbusier inspired WTC, the World Trade Center — which up until that time had been hated by the public and critics and was having trouble renting out the remaining office space. Yamasaki had a well-known fear of heights, so the towers had very small windows — just 600 mm wide to make the occupants feel more secure!  The film shows the towers nearing completion, and beautifully illustrates the modern gothic of the aluminium cladding that formed the narrow windows.

We loved the fact that — as a Frenchman or as an artist — he was unprepared for, and amazed by, the constant question from the American news media — “Why did you do it?”


“There is no why!”


We are loving the French more and more these days.  This act of subversion — walking between the twin towers is so French when you think about it, and when you think of it in context — check out the underground ‘cultural guerilla’ movement known as The Untergunther and ‘les UX’ who broke into the Pantheon and set up office to repair the ancient clock for free and in complete secrecy!

We adore all that sort of thing!

Petit is an artist in Residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.  I wonder what he thought of the destruction of the twin towers and 911 — and I would bet everyone watching this film would wonder that too.  Pity they didn’t have that comment on film!


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