Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
From flash mobs to graffiti tags, opportunities abound for today’s bystanders to be unexpectedly awestruck by impromptu art. Philippe Petit presaged, and perhaps preemptively trumped, them all on Aug. 7, 1974, stepping onto a wire strung between the World Trade Center towers.
A half-mile up off the ground, Petit walked, knelt and lay prostrate for 45 minutes.
Despite a known outcome, James Marsh’s 2008 documentary Man on Wire offered sublime thrills — grafting the tense suspense of a heist film onto an existential dissection of artistic accomplishment and true friendship.
Physical poet, adrenaline junkie, bon-vivant philosopher and wannabe robber all at once, Petit is a human Chatty Cathy doll: Yank his string, watch him go. Wire isn’t a talking-head documentary, it’s a bobblehead one.
However, Petit’s boisterous pleasure for excess smoothes his sales pitch, as it did for collaborators who worked around vigilant security, hours of immobility in cramped spaces and a fear of involuntary manslaughter charges if Petit fell.
Petit’s quixotic quest began before the towers were built and bore fruit when America, distracted by Watergate, might welcome such audacious entertainment and expression. Resultant fame didn’t corrupt Petit’s spirit, but it did consume his friendships and romances.
Petit’s team saw no glory, but it’s not just the severed bond with him that tears them up 30 years on. It’s that Petit placed in them the greatest-possible trust to realize his once-in-a-lifetime dream.
As Petit’s first-step panic crumbled into a smile, his walk became “a beautiful show.” His movie is, too.