Philippe Petit is a French tightrope walker, who performed one of the most insane and beautiful acts imaginable. In 1974, he undertook several trips between the towers of the World Trade Center, on a cable suspended at 417 meters.
Philippe Petit: a tightrope walker’s life
Philippe Petit was born in 1949 in Nemours (France). Since he was child, he has been interested in the performing arts, such as magic and juggling. At the age of 16, he began to train as a self-taught tightrope walker; that’s how an artist’s career started… Or as a vandal, depending on one’s point of view.
Indeed, Philippe likes to deploy his talents illegally, which has led to him being arrested a few times. One of the most emblematic arrest was after he crossed the two towers of Notre-Dame. And his initiatives were far from pleasing everyone including us in France, where his illegal crossings were sometimes considered vandalism.
But it doesn’t matter! At the age of 18, the artist was preparing to commit what he came to call the « artistic crime of the century ».
The crossing of the Twin Towers
In 1968, while he was at the dentist’s, Philippe Petit came across an article about the construction of the World Trade Center towers. From that moment on, the idea germinated of stretching a cable and crossing it. Then started a 6-year preparation for Philippe. A physical, technical and logistic preparation, because a cable could not be easily stretched between the Twin Towers, even less without authorization.
In addition to this, there were technical challenges, such as managing the cable when it is stretched 417 meters above the ground over 61 meters long. Because at this height, managing the wind and the swing of the towers was not easy.
Thus, after years of meticulous preparation, Philippe Petit set off on his cable on August 7, 1974. Then began 45 minutes of magic for the New Yorkers in the morning. The tightrope walker made 4 round trips on his cable. He took the opportunity to dance, greet the crowd, or even lie down on the cable.
After this crossing that made many passers-by dream, Philippe Petit was arrested by the police. For an act of this gravity, he was thus condemned to… Walking on a cable in a children’s party in Central Park.
Indeed, the judge agreed to drop the charges in exchange for a free show from the tightrope walker. A nice way to salute this artistic performance.
« My criminality is purely artistic. If I had asked for permission and had been refused, I would have done the crossing anyway. But I didn’t even think about it. For me, it’s obvious: you don’t need permission when you want to do beautiful things. You just have to do them. »
The documentary Le Funambule, retracing the life and the crossing of Philippe Petit was released in 2008. It received the Oscar for best documentary film.
In 2015, the excellent film The Walk, directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) came out. Once again, the film retraces the life and the sensational journey of the tightrope walker, this time, through the prism of fiction. A film which was not a success, but which we highly recommend!
This 45-minute crossing remains one of the most daring artistic performances of all time. And despite the disappearance of the World Trade Center, this day remains engraved in the history of New York and the Twin Towers.