Philippe Petit has blown me away. And so has this film about his life, focused on the day in August,1974, when he walked on a cable stretched between the South Tower and North Tower of the World Trade Center.
I loved the music, graphics, and juxtapositions in this film. Petit is such a clown-like, dancer-like, Kokopelli-like character. The artistic decisions of Man on Wire emphasize contrasts and seem to play against each other–fairy tale on the one hand, extreme reality on the other. You can watch this film as an engineer, an athlete, an artist, or a philosopher. Amazingly, it will thrill you from any of these perspectives. It also manages to blend all of these into a complete, complex, whole.
The interviews with the friends and girlfriend at the end show us the evanescence of both beauty and love–but they also demonstrate that a great work of art is immortal. You may think of Fellini, Charlie Chaplin, even Jesus.
The poignancy of this film comes not only from a skillful rendering of an artistic triumph but also from the presence of absence. No one mentions 9-11, but it is everywhere, especially at the beginning, when we see film from the early 1970’s when workers in hardhats are digging the foundations and laying the first layers of the towers and then again when one picture frames Petit on his wire between the towers and a plane passing by that looks as though it could fly into the tower on the left.
I may, however, read the National Book Award-winning Let the Great World Spin, on the recommendation of someone whose literary judgment I trust. I know that Philippe Petit’s story is central to this novel also.
Have you read either of these, seen the film? What are your thoughts?