The exhilarating 2008 documentary entitled ‘Man on Wire,” directed by James Marsh takes the meaning of the word ‘passion” to an entirely new, breathtaking level. As students trickle back to school after various summers filled with dusty alarm clocks and 3 p.m. breakfasts, this film is key in the active mindsets of goal setting, precision and hard work.
Unlike most of us who strive toward accomplishing goals of becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers and writers, among other admirable careers, Philippe Petit lives for the thrill of tightrope walking, as he dedicates his life to enhancing and perfecting this skill.
Born in Paris, Petit started living on the edge at a very early age. From even the very beginning stages of life, he challenged himself to walk across dangerous surfaces. Petit is most known for his illegal walk between the Twin Towers in New York City on Aug. 7, 1974. The documentary’s main focus is both the planning and execution of the aforementioned act.
Petit was first inspired to pursue this ambition in 1968, as he sat in his dentist’s office in Paris. Here, he discovered an article on the not-yet-constructed Towers, along with an illustration of the proposed model. From this point forward, he grew obsessed with the Towers, collecting articles, taking measurements and contemplating various methods of slyly yet carefully accomplishing the act he had in mind.
Petit ensured perfection and unquestionable accuracy by traveling to New York on many occasions to make first-hand observations of the construction of the towers. Petit and N.Y.-based photographer Jim Moore went up in a helicopter to take aerial photographs of the World Trade Center.
Petit used a 450-pound cable and a custom-made 26-foot- long, 55-pound balancing pole to achieve his goal. He stepped off the South Tower and onto his three-quarter inch, 6 by 19 IWRC steel cable, and then made eight crossings between the Towers, which were still in construction, a quarter mile above the sidewalks of Manhattan, in an event that lasted about 45 minutes. In addition to walking, he sat on the wire, gave knee salutes, laid on the wire and spoke with a gull circling above his head. The beauty and peace that 24-year-old Petit encompasses are visuals to which words do no descriptive justice. It’s as if the world is so simple and so golden for the few moments as one looks to the sky and sees this divine being stretched on a wire, experiencing complete peace and harmony.
Sgt. Charles Daniels, who worked for the Port Authority Police Department, was dispatched to the roof to bring Petit down and later reported what he experienced.
‘I observed the tightrope ‘dancer’ because you couldn’t call him a ‘walker’ approximately halfway between the two towers. And upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire.
‘And when he got to the building we asked him to get off the high wire, but instead he turned around and ran out into the middle. He was bouncing up and down. His feet were actually leaving the wire and then he would resettle back on the wire again… Unbelievable. Everybody was spellbound in the watching of it.”
Graduate Head Resident of Southside Katie Van Wert commented on the film.
‘I thought it was amazingvery lovely and also very funny,” she said. ‘The guy had a sort of deep maniacal seriousness that we generally find only in children and lunatics, and it was very moving to see the way that his basically ordinary friends and co-conspirators accommodated themselves to that seriousness of his, even at great cost to themselves. The film did a good job of staring and didn’t try to explain what didn’t need explaining.”
Miller is a member of the class of 2011.