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.