Saturday, August 7, 2010
The Artistic Crime of the Century
Man on Wire won an Academy Award in 2007 for best documentary. The subject was Philippe Petit who stretched a cable from World Trade Center building one to World Trade Center building two and did a high wire act--110 stories up in the air. I can't comment on the artistic merits of the movie. I am sure it was fine. But I can never stop thinking about this extraordinary crime (Petit was arrested afterwards!) and feat of daring. I find it difficult to describe with superlatives because it seems impossible. On the morning of August 7, 1974 Petit and his accomplices strung a cable from building to building and Petit danced and hopped and laid down on the cable. For 45 minutes he performed for the crowd below. This was before CNN and videocameras on cell phones and well before 9/11. When I think about what it must have taken to perform so high in the air, I absolutely shiver. I do not believe anyone else could ever do this.
It is against this amazing story that Colum McCann sets his fabulous novel Let the Great World Spin. Philippe Petit is a minor character performing high in the air and 9 other characters tales are woven into this historic high wire walk in strange and beautiful ways. What is even more magical about the story telling is that all the stories finally weave together into a heartbreaking, jaw dropping, yet redemptive tale set on a hot summer August day in 1974.
In addition to some great characters and fabulous stories (McCann can really get into the hearts and minds of many different types of people.) he evokes the 70's and makes it feel more magical than I remember it being. I felt nostalgia for 1974.
One critic I read wrote that this is the only good novel written in tribute to the World Trade Centers and 9/11. When I read that I realized that this was the true beauty of this novel: it never lets you forget these stunning buildings that are no longer dotting the NYC skyline.
After you have read the book, check out the documentary. Let me know how you would describe this man's walk on the wire.