In 1974 Philipe Petit, the French wirewalker, attempted and achieved the impossible. How often can a human being say that? Yes, people are capable of extraordinary feats, yes, there are always more difficult tasks to complete, races to win, higher summits to conquer, new worlds to discover, unknown chasms to explore, masterpieces to create but… I would venture to say that this man truly did the impossible, the equivalent of which no one before or after has done and no one will ever do.
At twenty-four Petit, no stranger to wirewalking (he had already walked between the towers of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and other lesser sites) drew a cable between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. On the morning of August sixth he spent forty-five minutes walking on that wire, from one tower to the next, then back, then crossed again both ways a number of times, kneeling to bow to the ever growing crowd below watching in awe, lying down on his back to contemplate the sky, not rattled by the police helicopter hovering over him with the pilot advising him that he had broken all manner of New York laws or cops who had rushed to the top of both towers and yelled at him to step down instantly.
Petit, wearing a dreamy look and a contented half grin stepped down only when he was good and ready. After the handcuffs were removed and he was ordered to give one or two performances in Central Park for children, he stayed on in New York, for thirty years artist in residence at the cathedral of Saint John the Divine. He also traveled continents, always wirewalking. Though he could surely have made pots of money with commercials and by products, he never wanted to. The poetry had to remain pure, the love of wirewalking sustained him, as did his books and invitations issued the globe over.
The walk between the towers has been widely documented, including in the 2008 Oscar-nominated MAN ON WIRE. Now comes the 3D, Imax Zemeckis version. It has been somewhat savaged, to different degrees, as too slow, with the wrong actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s French accent absurd, his hair cut ridiculous, the psychology behind the whole stunt unclear, etc. Critics, for the most part, stop their nitpicking and stand back in awe when they describe the last quarter of the film. Indeed, the preparations for the breathtaking and completely illegal stunt considerably speed up the pace, and the walk itself . . . there are no words. Gordon-Levitt, trained by no less a master than Petit himself, gives audiences all the thrills in the world. The cinematography is of course spectacular. The towers themselves are gorgeous and lovingly rendered in CGI as they were on that day, barely completed, and here once again present as they always are in our hearts. If we cannot stop thinking of the void in the place they once occupied on the New York skyline, the director lets us deal with that grief in our own way, not once mentioning their fate. Very elegant.
See THE WALK, encourage others to do so. We all need poetry, we all need to witness the daring and madness that went into this one magnificent act – Saïdeh Pakravan is a published author in France. Her blog is The Counter Argument.