Tag Archives: Robert Zemeckis

Interview: Real-life Twin Towers wire walker Petit talks ‘The Walk’

'The Walk' -- Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Philippe Petit (photo: Sony Pictures)

By Tim Lammers

For the lack of better words, it’s been a real balancing act for famed wire walker Philippe Petit for the past nine years — considering not one but two films about his death-defying walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center have made it to the big screen.

The first, of course, was director James Marsh’s 2008 Oscar-winning documentary “Man on Wire”; and now, nine years after Petit got a call from filmmaker Robert Zemeckis in a bid to tell the wire walker’s riveting tale in narrative fashion, “The Walk” is finally stepping its way into theaters.

“Although ‘The Walk’ is not the first film to take a look at the part of my life, it’s different because of the dimension and its immensity, and if you look at the movie in IMAX 3-D it is incredible,” Petit told me in a phone conversation from New York Wednesday.

Now playing in IMAX venues and expanding to theaters nationwide on Friday, “The Walk” chronicles the life and events leading up to the then-24-year-old Petit’s thrilling wire walk between the void of the Twin Towers in 1974. Directed and co-written by Zemeckis, “The Walk,” based on Petit’s book, “To Reach the Clouds,” stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit and Ben Kingsley as his mentor, Papa Rudy.

The interesting thing about “The Walk” is that Petit wasn’t looking to make his story into a feature film — that is, until he got a call from Zemeckis out of the blue. Once Zemeckis obtained a copy of the 2003 children’s book “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers,” he was determined to flesh Petit’s story out on the big screen.

“I received a phone call from him because he had the children’s book that he was reading to his little kids,” Petit recalled. “He said, ‘I want to make a movie about you in 3-D, putting people on the wire with you, and nine years later, the movie has opened. It’s really been an adventure.”

At the same time, the French artist said, “Man on Wire” was in the works, so he felt that there would be a chance Zemeckis wouldn’t be interested in telling another version of his story.

“The first thing I said to Robert when I met him was, ‘Did you know that there’s a documentary in production?’ and he said, ‘That’s great. It can only help. This film will be a different form of storytelling from the ideas in my head.’ So after the ‘Man on Wire’ production, I started another adventure with Robert,” Petit recalled.

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“The Walk” is particularly special to Petit, because as a PG film it is accessible to a wider base of movie fans. Petit said what makes the film experience particularly poignant — even though it is not addressed in “The Walk” itself — is the retelling of his tale in the wake of the terror attack on the Twin Towers.

“It’s incredible, seeing my story first as a children’s book and now being open to film audiences as a family movie by Robert Zemeckis. I have a whole new generation getting interested in what has become a legend, in a way, because the towers are not here anymore,” Petit said. “I have kids from schools sending me beautiful drawings, poems and questions, and at the end of the year, one school even puts on a little play that reconstructs my walk. The films have opened the door to a different age. That’s a great compliment for an artist to witness.”

Petit has maintained a great sense of humility about his accomplishments (“The Walk” also chronicles his walk between the two towers of Notre Dame Cathedral in 1971), as well as sense of humor. In his in his Twitter bio @PetitWTC, he proudly describes himself as “Man On Wire — been arrested more than 500 times for … Street-Juggling!”

The irony is, Petit said despite everything he’s done — and as many times as he’s been arrested — it’s never been for the attention. In fact, as it’s demonstrated in the film, Petit assembled a small crew for his “artistic coup” to walk the wire between World Trade Center towers, which was pulled off like a heist underneath the noses of New York City authorities, city personnel and construction workers.

“What is extraordinary is that I’ve never sought fame, it came naturally in the aftermath of the things I did,” Petit said, humbly. “If I had a goal, it was to venture in that strange, magic space created between the Twin Towers. I’m glad what I offered the people watching below and people around the world inspired them. I’m glad when people came up to me afterward and said, ‘You inspired us,’ instead of just offering them a slice of the impossible.”

If Petit’s dizzying walk between the Twin Towers in “The Walk” proves anything, it’s shows that you can go to incredible places as long as it’s your passion — not fame or fortune — that’s guiding you.

“People often ask me what the recipe is for the life I lead, to walk a wire, I always refer to the word ‘passion,'” Petit, 66, said. “If I look back at my life, whether when it was at 6 years old when I was learning magic by myself or at age 14 when I started to learn juggling, the passion was what mattered. I was practicing 12 hours a day, and was thrown out of school because I was so passionate and wanted to attain perfection. Passion should be on everybody’s slate throughout life.”

Movie reviews: ‘The Walk,’ ‘The Martian’

Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in TriStar Pictures' THE WALK.

By Tim Lammers

“The Walk” (PG) 4 stars (out of four)

Director Robert Zemeckis takes the art of filmmaking to dizzy new heights, quite literally, with “The Walk,” a brilliant dramatic recreation of Phillipe Petit’s death-defying wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Even though the amazing feat was chronicled in the Oscar-winning 2008 documentary “Man on Wire” and we know how the story ends, Zemeckis — through the stellar acting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit — still expertly manages to place the viewer right on the wire with the famed wire walker and creates an air of uncertainty. Before that, Zemeckis recounts the extraordinary events leading up to the walk, ingeniously framing them within something you’d see in a heist film.

“The Walk” can only be seen on IMAX screens until its wide opening Oct. 9, and quite frankly it’s the only way to see it. It’s a film experience that might not play well for those afraid of heights, as Zemeckis creates one of the most intense film atmospheres in recent memory. While “The Walk” is an uplifting film, there’s obviously a looming sense of sadness as the vision of the Twin Towers recalls the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 — an event that Gordon-Levitt handles with heartbreaking subtlety with a beautiful soliloquy at the film’s conclusion. It’s one of the best films of the year.

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“The Martian” 3 1/2 stars (out of four)

The curse of lukewarm Red Planet movies is lifted by director Ridley Scott with “The Martian,” a smart, sci-fi epic that wonderfully mixes action, adventure, drama, comedy and great visual effects into a relatable narrative about a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars. A movie that respects its audiences’ in

telligence, “The Martian” works real science into the story, yet presents it in a way that we can all understand. Following the brilliance of director Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” Scott continues to raise the bar that future space films should strive for.

Unlike his classic space thriller “Alien,” and “Alien” prequel “Prometheus,” Scott’s monster in “The Martian” is time, as astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left alone on Mars and presumed dead after a storm separates him from his crew. Featuring a stellar ensemble cast including the likes of Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, Jeff Daniels, Kristin Wiig, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor as astronauts and NASA personnel scrambling to assemble a rescue plan, “The Martian” proves that Scott is once again at the top of his game.