Monday, October 12, 2015

Why I Probably Will Walk Away From THE WALK

counter clockwise from top left: Jean-Louis Blondeau, Annie Allix, Jean-François Heckel,
Jean-Pierre Dousseau, Jim Moore, Barry Greenhouse, and Phillipe Petit

I am someone who is always annoyed when people comment on movies they haven't seen, books they haven't read, music they haven't listened to, yet I'm about to become one of them.  On October 9th, 2015, TriStar Productions released the movie The Walk, staring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  It is based on the incredible event of August 7th, 1974, when the French wire-walker Phillipe Petit danced back and forth, for nearly 45-minutes, between the Twin Towers in New York City.  I was just about 12 years old when this happened, and I can remember the sheer wonder and awe of it.  Something so impossible to even contemplate, and yet Petit didn't simply contemplate it, he accomplished it.  He made the impossible, possible, and it is not too much of an overstatement to say that my world changed on that day.  And with the relase of the 2008 documentary Man on Wire, I began to celebrate annually "International Phillipe Petit Danced Between the Towers Day."  (You can look back through my blog history and find a number of posts about all of this.)

You'd think that I'd be one of the first ones in line to see the new film, and I am tempted.  I might even see it at some point, but not right away.  And maybe not at all.  The reason for my hesitation is that from all accounts it tells only one part of the story of that day, and the story it tells is a misdirection from the true story -- a much more powerful story than that of a lone man overcoming impossible odds. 

In Man on Wire and, again from what I've heard, The Walk, it is noted that Petit had accomplices.  And this is how they are usually depicted -- accomplices who help Petit realize his vision, his dream.  Several years ago I wanted to use a particular picture I'd come across of Petit street juggling and discovered that this beautiful photograph had been taken by none other than Jean-Louis Blondeau.  I wrote to him in France and asked his permission to use the photograph.  We have corresponded back and forth several times now, and from him I have come to see the "fairy tale" (as he calls it) of the genius wire walker as the mere surface of the story, and a misleading one at that.

The truth as I understand it is that le coup -- as the walk was known among those who participated -- was very much a collaborative venture of a community of people.  In fact, the walk on that August morning was as much an achievement of Jean-Louis, Annie Allix, Jean-François Heckel, Jean-Pierre Dousseau, Jim Moore, and Barry Greenhouse as it was a feat of Petit's.  Without them it simply would have been impossible and, not to at all detract from the sheer courage, commitment, and skill shown by Petit as he stepped out onto that wire, it was in many ways that team of "accomplises" who really overcame those "impossible odds."  It may be an overstatement to say that the walk itself was the easiest part of the whole thing, but it is my distinct impression that it was not the most difficult, either.

In last year's post I noted that I will no longer celebrate "International Phillipe Petit Danced Between the Towers Day" in favor, now, of more accurately marking the anniversary of "The Dance Between The Towers."  This is not the story of one man overcoming great odds; it is the story of a group of friends working together to do the impossible and to inspire the world.  That is the movie I want to see.

Pax tecum,


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Toody said...

Well if you "Walk Away" from the film, your loss. That was a great movie. I disagree with your point of view. All of the "friends" who assisted Petit were very replaceable. Most especially the Photographer (I'm assuming since he was very nice to you, he had shared HIS side of the story, hence your POV). It WAS Petit's dream, not the photographers. And most importantly (even though you laughably said it wasn't that important) PETIT DID THE WALK!!!!! If he had smashed to the ground the photographer would have disappeared and not clamored for all this attention. I read an article on him recently, he is bitter and should have carved a career of his own after 1974, instead of clamoring for Petit's fame. You don't see the others clamoring for fame and bad mouthing Petit. They supported their THEN friend. They were not the main act. in fact I would say the guy that worked in the WTC that made the fake IDs was more important than the photographer. I will chalk the photographer with the girlfriend Annie. They were both replaceable, without them Petit would walk anyway as he did at other places. I'm glad the movie got the critics praise. By the way I forget the photographers name is why I'm not mentioning him by name. The Irony huh?!

RevWik said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the movie. I don't know how much else you know about the event beyond what's depicted in it -- and, as I noted plainly, I haven't seen the movie so I can't comment on any of those specifics -- yet your continual reference to Jean-Louis as "the photographer" demonstrates to me that my fears about the film are valid. If you read Petit's own book about the walk, or watch the 2008 documentary, it is clear that Jean-Louis was not merely the photographer but, rather, absolutely essential to the planning. Petit himself is clear that it was Jean-Louis who kept the entire affair grounded (if you'll excuse the pun). Petit says of himself that he was far too impetuous and far too impractical to have made the plan on his own. He had the courage, without question, and he had the skill to walk, absolutely. None of the others did. Yet even Petit is clear that the others who were involved -- and Jean-Louis most especially -- were anything but "replacable."

I am making the assumption that you hold the opinion that they were "replacable" on the story you saw on the screen -- a fictionalized account no matter how closely they matched their story to the truth. You seem to be assuming that my opinion is based on my correspondence with Jean-Louis and if so you are partially correct. Yet even if I had never had an exchange with him of any kind, the documentary Man on Wire seems to unequvically portray the entire team as essential. Even more so, Peitit's own account of the event says so explicitly -- Jean-Louis was no "mere photographer," according to Philipe Petit; the others were hardly "replacable."

I would be very interested in a link to the article you read that painted Jean-Louis in such a negative light. If there's more for me to learn about the truth of that day I am very interested in doing so. I would encourage a similar attitude for you, as well. The "fairy tale" -- Petit's own term for the way he tells his story -- is a powerful thing: one man facing impossible odds with just his determination, his courage, and his skill. Yet that's not the whole truth of le coup. How could it be?

PS -- as to "the photographer" "bad mouthing" his one-time friend, that has not been my experience at all. With me, at least, Jean-Louis has always been quite careful to be respectful of his old friend. They were, after all, the best of friends, once, and for a long time, and together they accomplished something the world had never seen before.

RevWik said...

This piece, from Psychology Today in 2016, is an interesting one considering the current conversation here: The Bad From the Good: the forgotten backstory of a daredevil and the meaningful life," by Michael F Steger Ph.D.