What a treat it was to see the new Robert Zemeckis film THE WALK this weekend!
Do you remember where you were in early August of 1974? I do. I was rehearsing for a production of Mame at the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Summer Music Theater Workshop by day and riveted to the news at night. President Nixon, everyone felt, was about to resign at any moment…or get indicted…or something.
Meanwhile, a few miles away in New York City, a French tightrope walker named Phillipe Pettit did the impossible: he strung a tight rope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center and walked between them…110 stories above the ground. The day before the night Nixon resigned, the Watergate-weary public was absolutely delighted to see the news get dominated with this unbelievable story.
I never thought twice about how the tight rope managed to get strung up there, or how hard it must have been for this incredible man to pull off this stunt. This movie goes into all of the behind-the-scenes preparations for the famous walk that captivated the world. Petit had a team of helpers and their relationship, not to mention machinations for stringing that rope, are revealed in the movie.
As a New Yorker, and one who loved, loved, loved the Twin Towers, this movie was especially meaningful to me. In the movie The Walk, our towers are back. They were wonderful! They are shown in all their glory, too: you get to see again the elegant simplicity of the snow-white lobby, the way the buildings would reflect the sky by day, changing colors with the weather or the sun’s rise and fall. You get to see them at night, a spectacle that I tried never to miss. I would ride the Express Bus home to Brooklyn every night and sit on the right-hand side because it provided the prettiest view of the towers when they were all lit up, amber lights glowing from inside so many, many offices.
You even get to see a bit of the lower sub-basement and loading dock floors of the towers, too. Until the moment one of those scenes came onto the screen, I had forgotten that a childhood friend’s father had an office that was many floors under the lobby of one of the towers. Seven floors down, maybe, if I remember it correctly. I spent a day there once, hanging out in that company in the bowels of the building. It wasn’t frightening, but I felt, at the time, it was kind of gloomy, and strange not to be able to see out the windows since, of course, there weren’t any. Now I’d probably call it “creepy,” but I was young then, and so were the towers. There’s the views from the top of the WTC, with all of New York spread out before them. There’s even some shots visible, way down on the ground and shown from above, of the good old World Trade Center courtyard. I used to sit out there in nice weather all the time. There was a mall in the World Trade Center, and the best Borders Bookstore ever. I used to go there every weekend…oh, how I miss the whole lovely complex!
The movie is based on Petit’s book, MAN ON WIRE, which I now want to read. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Petit, and he’s absolutely adorable – in addition to being a fantastically good actor. As for the footage of the walk across the wire itself…hold onto your seats, folks! It’s one of the scariest, most thrilling movie sequences you’ll ever see, and already knowing that it’s going to end well doesn’t take away the one-misstep-and-God-Almighty-he’ll-be-done-for bone-chilling terror of it.
Petit’s walk popularized the towers, which at first were not too well-received among New Yorkers. They had at first seemed big and kind of characterless (though I never felt that way myself, believing them spectacular). New Yorkers changed their minds after Philippe Petit came along. As one character says, right after the walk, “Everybody loves the towers now!”
We still do.
I’d like to offer some special New York thanks to Philippe Petit and Robert Zemeckis for making this movie, for letting us see our Twin Towers again in all their splendiferous glory, and for dramatizing a true feat of daring. I felt like this movie gave us a bit of our city’s history back, and a chance to feel, for the short while it was on the screen, like we were home.