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Review by Laura G. Brown




[]  Man on Wire is a documentary that details Philippe Petit's unique wire walking stunt between the Twin Towers of Manhattan's World Trade Center in 1974.

Petit's name fits him: Could anything seem more delicate or tiny than his spindly black form perched 1,300 ft. in midair? This daredevil exemplifies the libertarian idea that a person owns his own life, even to the point of risking it for a cause.

Yet the risk was calculated. The Frenchman was a trained acrobat and tightrope walker who'd planned his "coup" for years. After walking 140 ft. across the span between the towers eight times, and even lying down on the wire, he was promptly arrested for "disturbing the peace."

The Twin Towers are the film's uncredited co-stars, looming over Manhattan like sentinels of America's coast, on par with the Statue of Liberty. A.O. Scott writes for The New York Times that people looking up that morning 34 years ago might have worried that this man could fall hundreds of feet, yet would have no inkling that the towers would be the ones to fall, in a balletic crumple, years later. The thread Petit strung between the skyscrapers turned out to be more tenacious than the invisible one holding together the buildings and their inhabitants.

Filmmaker James Marsh's thorough account of this adventure includes mundane as well as fascinating details.

Petit and an accomplice are surprised by a guard near the skyscraper's roof, and huddle under a dusty tarp for hours. The cable Petit walked on was sent from tower to tower by bow and arrow. His pal, a so-so marksman, shot a line across, which Petit went fishing for in the dark. The cable was then tied to it and pulled over.





Petit's exuberance, undimmed by time, is refreshing. He seems engaging, infectiously enthusiastic, and able to attract a loyal cadre of helpers for his plan. Still, he isn't entirely likable. Upon reading about the towers being built, he says he felt he had to possess them in some way. He lampoons the police and guards. After his historic stunt, he heists one arresting officer's watch. When a groupie latches on to him at a press conference and offers to share her bed, he gladly accepts, saying he feels entitled to this reward, discounting the feelings of his longterm girlfriend.

The film's many reenactments by actors move the story along nicely. It will appeal to those who like real mavericks -- not the McCain-Palin kind. Want to walk a tightrope between the world's tallest buildings? Gather some like-minded individuals, plan it, do it. Tired of the Democratic/Republican statist machine? Want to start a new political party? Gather some compatriots in your living room, as Dave Nolan did during this same period in 1972, and the rest is history.

In today's crushing conformity and Patriot Act ripples, Petit's breaking of security measures to access the towers could be seen as a terrorist act. And Nolan's wonderful idea is still stuck in the idea stage. But we can admire dreamers like Petit and Nolan. They remind us that you can dramatically alter the landscape when you push ahead with a creative endeavor.



Laura G. Brown is a teacher and writer living in San Gabriel, CA.

She is a veteran candidate for State Assembly on the Libertarian Party of California.

Her email: lauragbrown at sbcglobal dot net


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