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Arts & Entertainment
Man on Wire at the The Cathedral St. John the Divine
By Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
April 15, 2009 
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“Lift up Thine Eyes” read the program cover, words superimposed over blue sky and clouds—and given that you were in the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, you might have assumed that this was some divine decree from some omnipotent power.  Ah, but instead the words were a reference to Philippe Petit, Artist-in-Residence of the Cathedral for over 25 years, who in August of 1974 (the summer of Nixon’s resignation) performed what was later called the “artistic crime of the century” when he walked on a high wire illegally stretched between the rooftops of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  Over the course of an hour on that August morning, Petit made eight crossings between the towers, much to the delight of gawking New Yorkers on the sidewalks more than a quarter mile below.  James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire (2008) (titled for what was written on the arrest complaint) brilliantly chronicles Petit’s background, the earlier walks on Notre Dame Cathedral and Sydney Harbor Bridge, and the meticulous months of planning necessary for Petit’s walk into history.  Combining elements of the caper film (think Ocean’s Eleven), and utilizing archival footage and dramatic re-creations, Marsh documents the nerve-wracking lead-up to the actual crossing between the two towers—and when it finally happens, when Petit alights like a bird on a wire, the resultant footage is breathtaking.  Little wonder that the audience in the Cathedral rose as one to give Petit a standing ovation when he appeared for a Q-and-A session.  A true busker and a magician of the quotidian, Petit delighted his rapt audience with responses relating to his philosophy that "Life should be lived on the edge of life,” and at the conclusion of the evening, he performed one more bit of magic: the balancing of a long-stemmed flower on the tip of his nose so that the flower appeared suspended amidst the vast recesses of the great Cathedral.