February 5, 2009

"There is no why"


Thoughts of Zabriskie Point in James Marsh's doco on high-wire walker Philippe Petit, Man on Wire. In Zabriskie Point, Mark flies a small plane from the empty desert back to LA, having painted on its side the phrase "no words". In Man on Wire, Petit answers questions about his motivations for his big gravity- and death-defying stunts -- the biggest being a walk across the space between New York's twin towers in August 1974 -- with "there is no why". In each case, the action is an argument against reason or logic, not a contribution to it.

In Man on Wire, the secret planning and preparations for Petit's walk are reconstructed in crime-film black-and-white as though this were a heist movie. On first glance this looks like padding -- this is a slim story to stretch to 90 minutes -- but maybe there's a better way to see it. If Petit's walk is to be taken, somehow, as the positive, joyous and generous inverse of the terrorism of September 11, 2001, then the long planning of this event must match the long planning of that one. And that might be why there is so much emphasis on the building of the World Trade Center itself at the start of Man on Wire: the building site is a ground zero that something grew from rather than a ground zero that everything fell into.