Man on Wire – the perfect performance art piece?

Yesterday I saw the beautiful documentary film "Man on Wire" which was about Philippe Petit who tight-roped for 40 minutes between the buildings of the World Trade Center on the 7th of August 1974.

The lindance between the WTC buildings is the perfect performance art piece. Considering what would happen to the WTC towers, the symbolism in the imagery becomes very strong. A thin man on a fragile thread, high above the ground at the risk of his own life, he wanders between the two gigantic buildings that would later be pulverized into nothingness – Ground zero. Nothing is permanent. The only thing left is the memory of the event. Everything is given to man as a loan Per Lagerkvist concluded one of his poems.

Philippe moves decisively and carefully on the wire and looks like a Jedi master playing with death near the place where heaven begins. The background music in the film is by the French composer Eric Satie. The pole dancer becomes the symbol of the dream of complete freedom, independence and the drive to move forward. The rope becomes the connection between the two mythical buildings between which he moves. In the film, he reveals in an interview that once he looked down. Death is always present.

The film never mentions 9/11 but still makes me think along the lines of an alternative to the terror that we today associate with the towers. The documentary recounted the meticulous planning the French group did to stretch the rope and how they hid under tarpaulins to avoid detection. They built models of the buildings and Phillipe looked at the towers by helicopter to get his brain used to the high altitude. There was 60 meters between the towers so they figured the best way was to shoot a bow to get the rope up. The fact that the cable also swayed laterally and vertically and around its own axis meant that they had to have support lines.

Dutiful police officers threatened to take him down by helicopter but Philippe stood free on his wire and almost teased the police by walking back and forth on the rope. After the lindance, the police arrested him. Later, the American media would ask Philippe why he had done the prank. He found the very question "why" very amusing.

But the documentary also tells how he changed after the incident.

Inspirational and thoughtful film. The first step was the hardest. Then there was no turning back…

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