Thursday, February 19, 2015

Man on Wire (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Philippe Petit Is the "Man On Wire"

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Philippe Petit is more sure-footed than most people. He’s a High Wire Artist. Yes, he’s that guy who walked across the wire from one tower of the World Trade Center to the other back in 1974.

The young Frenchman didn’t exactly have permission to do that. He danced on that thin wire without
a safety net for nearly an hour before he was arrested. His daring act has been called the "artistic crime of the century."

He merely calls it "le coup."

Filmmaker James Marsh made a documentary about it, appropriately titled "Man On Wire."

Having crossed between those twin towers some 1,350-feet above New York City’s streets, Philippe now finds himself in Key West, a town where six-story La Concha is the tallest downtown building.

"I’m here incognito," he quips. Having briefly passed through Key West on two previous occasions, he thought it would be a good place to go write his 11th book, The Key West Diary, while waiting for the snows to melt at his Catskills hideaway in upstate New York. He lives there most of the year, a quiet place to practice walking the tightrope in the "world’s smallest theater," a 6’ x 7’ arena inside a post and beam barn that he built with his own hands using 18th Century tools and methods. Philippe is also an Artist-in-Residence of the largest gothic cathedral in the world, The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Starting off as a street performer in Paris, he was a juggler and magician before mastering the tightrope. He admits taking a few spills during practice when he was young, but "never while performing, else I wouldn’t be here to talk with you," he grins. After all, the elfin redhead performs without a safety net.

Dangerous? "I get a little anxious when I see the film," he says of his walk across the 7/8"-thick wire between the two 110-story-high towers.

Why does he perform such risky feats without a net? "You wouldn’t put a leash on a bird," he replies as if that explains everything. He describes feeling "absolutely free" when performing on a high wire.

You don’t have to go to the top of a tall building to meet Philippe Petit. He’ll greet you at ground level this coming Tuesday after a special screening of "Man On Wire" at the Tropic Cinema, where he will give a Q&A following the film.

You might want to ask him to perform a magic trick. He carries a handy coin given to him by German filmmaker Werner Herzog for just such contingencies. Or you may want to ask him why a seemingly sensible man might want to walk, dance, lean back, or lay down while on a wire suspended more than a quarter mile in the air.

And if you get him talking, he’ll tell you about a new 3-D Robert Zemeckis movie coming out this fall with Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing him in "The Walk." He taught the actor to walk the tightrope for the movie. "He has a talent for it," mused Philippe Petit. "He became me."


No comments: