Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 33
 
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
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Cinema

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(©2008 Jean-Louis Blondeau/Polaris Images)

FULFILLING HIS DREAM: Phillipe Petit takes his first step in making his dream come true as he starts his daredevil high-wire walk between the tops of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in August, 1974. He crossed back and forth between the towers eight times before surrendering to the New York City police officers who were waiting to arrest him when he finished his stunt.

Man on Wire: Documentary Shows Petit’s High-Wire Walk Between Twin Towers

Kam Williams

On the morning of August 7, 1974, a street performer named Philippe Petit caught the world’s attention when he performed a death-defying high-wire act between the tops of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (WTC). The daring feat was an impressive achievement not only because it was illegal, but also because it had to be prepared in absolute secrecy.

Just think, not only did he have to gain access to the roofs of the buildings, he also had to figure out a way to stretch a 200-foot, 450-pound cable between them. And he had to take into account the fact that the Towers were designed to sway with the winds. His attempt to cross between them without a harness or parachute would seem to be a strange way to commit suicide to any sane person.

Obviously, Petit is a special human being. The Frenchman became consumed with attempting the stunt in 1968, after reading an article about the construction of the Twin Towers in his dentist’s waiting room. For six years he methodically planned every detail of his historic walk knowing full well that he could lose his life in an instant if he slipped or lost his balance during the walk between the Twin Towers.

Man on Wire is a riveting documentary which describes the events surrounding Philippe’s secret mission, including how he enlisted the assistance of a handful of accomplices. From flying over the Towers in a helicopter, securing fake badges to get through WTC security, to smuggling heavy equipment inside the building, he and his co-conspirators recount the particulars of their adventure.

One of his companions confesses that he wasn’t quite sure whether Petit was a nut or a con man, yet he chose to help his friend realize his dream. It is fascinating to learn that Philippe was a self-taught aerial artist with little high wire experience and had supported himself up until then as a street performer performing pantomime and magic tricks.

The film is guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes when August 7 finally arrives and we are treated to the breathtaking spectacle of Petit poised to take that first step off one of the Towers. He then proceeds to make 8 trips back and forth between the buildings at a height of 1,368 feet above ground, teasing the exasperated cops who were imploring him to return to the roof.

Instead, he lies on his back to take in the view, kneels as if in prayer, salutes the heavens, and even peers down into the crowd which had formed far below. Curiously, Philippe says his scariest moment came after he was handcuffed by police and almost had his neck broken when an officer shoved him down a flight of stairs.

An exhilarating film that should not to be missed both for its enlightening peek inside the mind of an extraordinary individual and for its tribute to the Twin Towers.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated PG-13 for sexuality, nudity, and drug references. In English and French with subtitles. Running time: 94 minutes. Studio: Magnolia Pictures.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

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