‘A Bird on a Leash Is Not a Bird’

Philippe Petit balances on a wire stretched between the towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. [Source: NYT/Jean-Louis Blondeau/Polaris]
Philippe Petit balances on a wire stretched between the towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. [Source: NYT/Jean-Louis Blondeau/Polaris]

A caller to On Point with Tom Ashbrook asked Philippe Petit if he wore some kind of belaying line when he danced across that wire stretched between the Twin Towers. “I was as free as a bird,” the intrepid wire-walker answered. “A bird on a leash is not a bird”.

In his youth, Petit fused an engineer’s painstaking planning with a poet’s flare to execute a number of daring, unauthorized wire walks — between the towers of Notre Dame in Paris, off the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia, and between the 110-story World Trade Center towers. Now 58, he is in the news again with the release of the documentary film Man on Wire, based on his 2002 memoir To Reach the Clouds.

Petit was joined by documentary director James Marsh for a fascinating and surprisingly nostalgic On Point interview. Here’s the blurb:

In the early morning light of August 7, 1974, an almost unbelievable thing happened in the skies above lower Manhattan.

One hundred and ten stories above the streets far below, 24-year-old Frenchman Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire secretly pulled between the twin towers of the World Trade Center and for 45 minutes, as police raged and pedestrians looked on dumbfounded, danced in the sky.

Now, of course, the towers are gone — since 9/11, just a memory above Ground Zero.

That absence has changed the context and meaning of Petit’s story. But in a way, that brings only more mystery and awe to it.

See the Man on Wire trailer. Read A. O. Scott’s NYT movie review.

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5 Responses to ‘A Bird on a Leash Is Not a Bird’

  1. ms modigliani says:

    Vertigo sets in when I look at that photo of Phillipe Petit balancing on a wire above the city. I’ll be sure to download that “On Point” podcast.

  2. Mark Willis says:

    It is a wonderful radio show. Philippe Petit isn’t a daredevil like Evel Knievel, but a performance artitst like Yves Klein. Vertigo is an appropriate response!

  3. Pingback: a blind flaneur » Yves Klein’s Leap Into The Void

  4. elizabeth says:

    Il faut un coeur inébranlable et un courage diabolique. Cette photo , sur le mur de ma salle de classe, me rappelle son exploit tous les jours. Il a volé près du soleil sans perdre ses ailes.

  5. Pingback: Finding A Balance Beyond 9/11 | a blind flaneur

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