Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Man on Wire

by Drew Martin
I just finished watching Man on Wire, a 2008 British documentary about the French high-wire artist, Philippe Petit. On August 7, 1974 (my mom's 34th birthday), Petit performed on a high-wire between the top of the Twin Towers. Petit and a small team installed the 450-pound cable during the night without permission or detection. Petit and the support crew snuck into both of the 110-story buildings of the World Trade Center, shot an arrow with a lead wire from one building to the other and stretched the cable between their roofs. That morning, he spent more than 45 minutes on the wire with a 26-foot-long, 55-pound balancing pole before he was forced off by the alarmed police, who called in a helicopter. It was a moment that entwined grace, fearlessness, absurdity, stupidity, brilliance, six years of diligent planning, Mission Impossible logistics, extreme focus and steel athleticism. In a post 9/11 world, the film is as much an homage to the Twin Towers as it is a documentary about Petit. While his guerrilla-style high-wire stunts are a kind of performance art, and a metaphor for life and death, much of his planning was very sculptural and photographic. Petit made scale models of the tops of the World Trade Center and extensively photographed the site from the roof, and also from a helicopter. My favorite “art” scene of Man on Wire is when Petit first visits the observation deck of the World Trade Center and thinks the challenge is impossible. He retreats to the stairs and draws a "fresco" on a sheetrock wall of the unfinished stairwell. It depicts Notre Dame Cathedral and Sydney Harbour Bridge, which he had already conquered, and added a prescient drawing of him walking between the Twin Towers. He sketched the image because it was important for Petit to imagine himself realizing his dream.

Click here to watch the trailer.