Man on Wire

Philippe Petit was a man who walked a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.

The documentary about this crazy caper, Man on Wire, is breathtaking. The real fun was perhaps not in the walk itself but in his painstaking preparation and his hoodwinking of so many people to actually get away with it.

I wrote about this some hundred years ago in New Escapologist Issue Four:

In 1974, French high-wire artist Philippe Petit walked a wire between the towers of the World Trade Centre. The wire walk was entirely unsanctioned. To complete the feat, Philippe and Co had to secure confederates in both towers, to navigate WTC security systems, and to find a way of setting up the wire without being detected. The operation was executed with the poise, preparation and secrecy of a heist.

The documentary, Man on Wire, contains a scene (a recreation) in which Petit must hide beneath a tarpaulin for what must have seemed like hours while a security guard ate his lunch only feet away. The thrill of the operation was not the high-wire walk itself but the exhilarating sense of pulling the wool over authority’s eyes and doing something unsanctioned.

It’s the thrill of graffiti, of crop circles, of hacking, of illegal raves. There is a brilliant piece of archive footage of an NYPD officer looking up at Petit’s wire in disbelief: mission accomplished.

This is the programme on which Herzog seems to run. Astonish them if you must. Ask forgiveness, not permission. Get on with it.


To read more about “getting on with it,” try my book I’m Out (strictly-limited special price via this link only) or, if you’re still biding your time, The Good Life for Wage Slaves.


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

2 Responses to “Man on Wire”

  1. Leon says:

    A line from the film: “refuse your own success” has always stuck with me, as an accidental overachiever in the traditional sense, I’ve had to refuse apparent success in order to achieve the real thing. To escape from someone else’s utopia and find your own.

    “Life should be lived on the edge. You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge – and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope.”
    Philippe Petit

  2. Nice. Thanks Leon. I’ll include your quote in the newsletter edition of this post.

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