Man On Wire

This film documents the six year plan and illegal performance of the 45 minute high wire walk across the yet-unfinished World Trade Center, by Philippe Petit in August 1974. It is based on Petit’s excellent book, To Reach the Clouds, published in 2002.

As a youngster, I vividly remember watching footage of that event on TV, and it had a profound impact on me, since it showed an individual man confidently standing on top of the greatest city in the world. The next morning, it took me an extra 30 minutes to deliver papers on my route, as I read the headline over and over again, before dropping off each paper.

If I were to give the film a subtitle, it would be Man at His Best.

Although Petit is flamboyant and constantly refers to artistic passion, don’t mistake this for non-thinking. The movie glorifies mind/body integration, as he places particular emphasis on the mental aspects, such as focus (look at his face when preparing for a high wire walk). Plus, there are dozens of drawings, models and designs which he and his team create and/or review during the planning of the project. All of this is done with the knowledge that he was breaking several laws and he would be arrested afterwards. (One could sometimes question Petit’s methods of getting around the law, but I believe that is a different matter.)

There is humor, drama and complementary music throughout the film, climaxing with the actual walk between the Towers.

In preparation for his New York event, Petit first chose to walk between the towers at the apex of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. One of the most symbolic scenes in Man On Wire highlights a focused and confident Petit walking gracefully in the sky above the cathedral while the clergymen inside lie face down on the floor, in submission, during the church service.

If ever there was a documentary that portrays the single tracked devotion to a concrete goal, this is it. I would go far enough to say that in August 1974 there were only a handful of people who knew or loved the World Trade Center as much as Petit.

There is one element in the book which is left out of the movie: Petit’s appeal to New York to rebuild the Twin Towers—taller and stronger, to once again tickle the clouds—and his promise to walk across them again. Unfortunately it looks like that battle is lost. The film has no reference to the Towers being destroyed. Instead, the emphasis is on its creation and magnificence.

I walked out of the theater not feeling the ground beneath me, because Petit ends the film on such an inspiring note. He states that life should be lived on the edge, with every single day as an exercise in independent thinking and action (he calls it rebellion), seeking beauty and happiness in the constant pursuit to reach for the best within us.

Robert Begley
January, 2009

The Heroic City: New York as a Microcosm of America

Robert Begley’s speech, The Heroic City (formerly entitled Man the Hero), has been delivered to audience acclaim in New York City, as well as metropolitan Detroit, Boston, and Washington, D.C. This talk covers a history of the heroes who made America the greatest country–and New York the greatest city–in the world. Robert examines 30 heroes, ranging from the popular and/or controversial (such as Hudson, Washington, Astor, and Vanderbilt) to those lesser known (Adriaen van der Donck). Did you know that these heroes have monuments where one can visit to pay homage? You will find out where they are.
What are heroes and why do we need them? What are different kinds of heroes? Why are attacks on heroism so prevalent today? What are the consequences? Is sacrifice compatible with heroism? What are the historic roots of America in general and New York in particular–and why have we strayed from those ideas? Who is the most important hero in New York history?  Robert will discuss and answer these, and other questions, The Heroic City.
Robert Begley is a dynamic speaker with more than 20 years experience in Toastmasters International. His speeches combine humor, passion, motivation, storytelling, and a profound understanding of the subject matter. He has written for The Objective Standard. He is also the Founder and President of the NY Heroes Society. Robert was host and producer of  the Manhattan  cable  television program, The Voice of Reason. Robert is currently writing a book about the history of American heroes. If you are interested in  having him speak in your area, please write to