Philippe Petit’s “Act of Benign Terrorism”

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Filed under: Art Pranks

Walking on Air
Go see Man on Wire

by Dana Stevens
Slate
August 1, 2008

Philippe Petit in Man on WireIn the middle of the night on Aug. 7, 1974, a French high-wire artist named Philippe Petit broke into the just-built World Trade Center with a small band of accomplices. As dawn was breaking, the men strung a cable between the Twin Towers, upon which Petit proceeded to walk for 45 minutes, crossing back and forth eight times as he danced, knelt, and lay down on the wire. Afterward, he was arrested, subjected to psychiatric evaluation (Q: “Why did you do this?” A: “There is no why”), and released. His community-service sentence: to perform a second, legal high-wire walk in Central Park for the children of New York City.

James Marsh’s documentary Man on Wire (Magnolia Pictures), which opened in New York last week and will be released around the country in August (check the official Web site for theater dates by city), focuses on the six-and-a-half years of planning and execution that went into this simple yet mind-blowing stunt. It’s not a portrait of the artist himself or a reflection on the meaning of his prank in the retroactive light of the towers’ destruction\””in fact, we learn little about Petit’s motivations or psychology, and the events of Sept. 11 are never mentioned head-on. It’s more like a real-life heist picture, one in which the final prize isn’t a vault full of cash but an act of pure, useless, and terrifying beauty. Read the rest of the review here.

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