For those who don’t know, Philippe Petit is a French high wire artist who gained world fame when, at 7:15am on August 7th 1974, he stepped off the edge of The World Trade Centre South Tower onto the tightrope he, and his team, had rigged during the night. ‘The Coup’, as Philippe calls it, had taken 6 years to plan and was the culmination of a dream inspired by an article in a Dentist’s waiting room magazine.
Prior to this, Philippe Petit had walked between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral and between the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
I have unlimited admiration for people who pursue such astonishing, self-imposed goals. When repeatedly asked ‘why’ he did it, Petit responded ‘I see three oranges, I juggle. I see two towers, I walk…’.There was no financial motivation but oddly, Petit’s Coup improved public and commercial perception of the World Trade Center considerably helping attract new tenants. There was no malicious intent or desire to promote a cause of any description. He just wanted to do it. He had to do it. Create something unqiue and beautiful and, above all, achieve what had become a dream.
Those who witnessed Petit, walking, standing kneeling, saluting and laying down on the wire 417m above the Austin J. Tobin plaza described the experience as ‘transcendental’, ‘mesmerizing’ and ‘etherial’. Some of this emotion may have been fuelled by the distinct possibility of seeing Petit fall, but the interviews and comments brought together in James Marsh’s Oscar-winning film Man on Wire suggest that it was heartfelt joy in repsonse to an extraordinary expression of skill, dedication and beauty.
If you haven’t seen Man on Wire, you should. I almost dismissed it as an art-house, low-budget documentary and, to some extent, it is all these things. It’s also magical, uplifting, joyful, moving and inspiring. All the things in such short supply at the moment. I’ll also be buying Philippe Petit’s original account of The World Trade Centre Coup. He’s a man worth listening to.