The rise of the Twin Towers, an illegal art performance at a height of 417 meters, the unbearable tension of watching an Oscar winning documentary, it’s all here!

I am not going to hide the fact that I have acrophobia. I am also familiar with the horror of terror. Not like a New Yorker, but I have the Twin Towers trauma in my heart too. (What more can a terrorist want?) I am afraid of many things that I cannot say here. I also believe that fear is useful for survival. My mind is crystal clear on this issue… Or it was, until I saw high-wire walker, juggler and illusionist Philippe Petit stepping on a steel wire that was stretched at 417 meters.

“When I see three oranges I juggle, and when I see two towers I walk on a wire between them,” Petit responded to the question “why” when he was arrested on Aug. 7th, 1974, after his illegal performance at the top of the World Trade Center. That was the reason for the performance that shook the world. Here is an ordinary cause that has gorgeous and unforgettable results. (27 years later, another man would choose the same towers as the scene for himself, again with a known reason.)

‘Man on Wire,’ the documentary film of the British director James Marsh, which will be on at theaters in Turkey from March 13th, tells about the Twin Towers adventure of Petit. The other man and his actions are not mentioned even once in the movie. However, while running after this French street artist’s passion between Paris and New York, the movie does not even for a moment let it out of one’s mind.

He met the Twin Towers project first in a newspaper story that he saw while waiting at the dentist’s lobby. This little, young man who fell in love with these man made giants waited for six years for the end of their construction, while on the other hand he was looking for a way to enter the towers. While he was waiting, he stretched his wire between the towers of Notre Dame, and the port bridge in Sydney.

Meanwhile, the towers were rising and Petit was watching closely. (Some from the audience who witnessed their rise for the first time in the documentary think: “I watched the end of the movie live. I remember how these steel plates melted.”) The construction of the towers ends finally. He made a canny plan to defeat the towers’ security and reach the 110th floor with the 204 kilograms of steel wire and the stabilizer bar of 8 meters weighing 25 kilograms. He carefully calculated the wind, the damp, the stabilizer ropes that would be stretched on the wire… Every detail kept Petit balanced between life and death. “If I die here, what a wonderful death,” he said with cheer. (The same audience thinks that 27 years later, more complex calculations should have been done. Then (s)he thinks of the planes diving into the towers and those people quietly throwing themselves down from the windows.) Petit walks over the 43 meter long, huge space between the towers with a big smile on his face. The police who came to arrest him waited helplessly for the end of his performance. The black and white photographs of this illegal dance and old Petit who talks cheerfully about that day, do not decrease, but increase the tension that seizes the movie. As I said, I am afraid of heights and of terror and of thinking that everything is connected to each other with a thin wire like that. But Petit is not afraid. Why?

Newsweek Turkiye, Issue 20, March 2009

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