“If I see three oranges, I have to juggle. And if I see two towers, I have to walk,” was Phillippe Petit’s explanation when asked why he had illegally wired a tight rope between the Twin Towers and walked, nay danced, for almost an hour between the two buildings in 1974.
Man on Wire is a fascinating documentary, a sublime collaboration between director James March and frenchman Petit, based on the true events that led to the extraodinary feat. In the late 60s Petit saw an artist’s impression of what the Towers would look like complete, and spent six and a half years dreaming of walking them before he could bring his dream to fruitition. Aided by a small team of accomplices, Petit had to find a way to bypass security in the Towers, smuggle heavy steel cable and rigging equipment in, and set up and anchor the wire between the two rooftops… all illegally and in complete secrecy. Marsh describes this and builds up tension, by mixing archive footage, interviews and well staged re-enactments of the entire preparation. The climatic walk, set to a musical score composed by Erik Satie, is breathtakingly beautiful and has, with good reason, been called the artistic crime of the century.
Interestingly, the film also offers insight into the man himself. Petit narrates most of the story and comes across as wholly self-consumed and unaware of the emotional pressure his ex-girlfriend Annie and friends, who ultimately could have aided his death, were under. Annie, for instance, said of meeting Petit for the first time “he courted me… and then my life was all about him. it was as if I had no destiny of my own… I was following his destiny.” Yet Petit speaks candidly, even when discussing the aftermath of his stunt – his courtship of fame and its trappings, and about losing many of his friendships with people close to him.
But despite his own shortcomings, viewers cannot deny Petit as the man who did something that none of us could ever imagine: he pinpointed his dream and he achieved it.