A few weeks ago I got a call from my friend Mickey O’Connor. I’ve known Mickey for almost a quarter century. I’ve watched him grow as a street performer, person, film maker, husband, father and friend. He was very excited to tell me about the movie that he had seen that afternoon. It was a documentary about a french street performer named Philippe Petit, wire walker, juggler and magician. It was the true story of the realizing of his desire to walk on a high wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.
Mickey used the word inspiring several times as he told me about the film. Of course it was just a matter of time before I caught this Sundance Film Festival Favorite. Yesterday was the day. For whatever reason I thought it to be a bit poetic to see this film on 9/11.
The movie begins before the buildings were even built. It chronicles the building of the tallest buildings in the world, with great archival film footage. The Twin Towers represent many things to many people, but for this one unique individual, he knew that they only had one real purpose, to be the stage for the greatest stunt of his life.
Can you imagine, being in New York, in 1974 looking waaaaaaayyyyyy up in the sky as seeing someone walking a tightrope between those buildings. And not just one time across! He spent 45 minutes up there making 8 passes and at one point lying down on the wire in the middle. You really have to see it to believe it.
When it was all over and he was being led away by NYC Police in handcuffs, the media all wanted to know why he did it. He smiled, looked into the faces and cameras and said, “There is no why. . . it’s just . . . beautiful”. At that moment many things about my own life came into focus. What it means to be an artist, to ditch the real world in favor of living a fantasy that is more to one’s liking. To follow your own muse to whatever end.
Beauty can be found in a flower, on a cactus, in the desert, or on the face of a smiling child or up in the sky as a man risks his life for his art, or in the heart of a street performer.
I challenge you to look for it and find it in your own life. I know I am.
On August 7th 1974, a young Frenchman called Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire suspended between New York's twin towers, then the world’s tallest buildings. After an hour dancing on the wire, with no safety net or harness, he was arrested and thrown into an underground prison. Until that moment no one but Petit and his team of accomplices, who had spent months planning their illegal 'coup' (as they referred to it amongst themselves) knew anything about it.
Born out of a dream and an idea, Petit and his team of accomplices spent eight months planning the execution of their 'coup' in the most intricate detail. Like a team of professional bank robbers planning their most ambitious heist, the tasks they faced seemed virtually insurmountable: they would have to find a way to bypass the WTC's security; to smuggle the wire and rigging equipment into the towers; to suspend the wire between the two towers; to secure the wire at the correct tension to withstand the winds and the swaying of the buildings; to rig it secretly by night – all without being caught. Not to mention the walk itself...
Directed by James Marsh (The King, Wisconsin Death Trip), Man on Wire brings Petit's extraordinary adventure to life through the testimony of all the co-conspirators who created the single, beautiful spectacle that became known as "the artistic crime of the century".