Thursday, 31 July 2008

Wind turbines - a blot on the landscape

David Bellamy, the broadcaster and environmentalist, has lambasted the Scottish government's “baffling” decision to approve the construction of the huge Clyde wind farm in South Lanarkshire, describing the project as “an enormous blot on the credibility of Scotland as a green place”.

His comments are a stark contrast to those of Alex Salmond, the First Minister, who last week announced the scheme as a step on the road to making Scotland the “green capital” of Europe. A total of 152 turbines are to be installed in clusters in the South Lanarkshire hill near the village of Abington, close to the M74.

Bellamy is one of that small band of environmentalists who doesn't believe in global warming. Read more at the Timesonline, Blot.

Over at the Edinburgh Fringe, I can report that I have met Lynn Ruth Miller, my favourite septuagenarian stripper, who quotes Browning: "Come grow old with me, the best is yet to be." That Lynn Ruth - she's a rum 'un.

And hats off to my colleagues at the Scotsman, whose unrivalled coverage of the "Fringe ticketing fiasco" led them to quote an apoplectic spokesman for the Ladyboys of Bangkok. Spokesman? Spokesman? Spokesperson surely.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Heard the one about the kid on the Fringe?

“Adults tend to keep quiet when kids are on stage. But if I did get a heckler, I'd have to deal with it - think of a couple of comeback lines, or hand them a colouring-in book or something like that,” said Eros, who debuted on the Fringe last year with a walk-on part in a children's comedy show.

That experience planted the germ of an idea, and next month he returns with Problem Child, a 50-minute set of his own. “I've been writing new stuff all the time, so I have way enough material to fill it out,” said Eros. “It's about pointing out the stupid things that adults do - then they go, ‘Oh yeah, he's right, I do that too,' and they laugh.”

The tale of a 12-year-old comedian, who is on his way to Edinburgh. Read more here: Kid on the Fringe.

Eros is just one of thousands of peculiarly-driven people who are about to descend on the city. I wrote recently about the 75-year-old stripper from San Fransisco who's heading to Edinburgh(a story subsequently picked up by Jay Leno, and by a number of US papers), and there are many, many more all with tales of their own.

A year ago, I had a proposal for a TV documentary about some of these fantastic people accepted by one of the bigger independent production houses, but unfortunately knocked back by the BBC. It's worth it though, I think. So if anyone out there feels like funding a book or a film don't hesitate to get in touch, because there is a great longer piece to be written about the eccentricities, dreams and ambitions which drive these folk on.

The Fringe is not the only show in town. Hit the link here to read a story in the Times at the weekend, about the £5 million cloud hanging over the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

PS: Overwhelmed by the publicity which has come her way since my article in the Times, Lynn Ruth Miller, the ageing stripper, has proposed marriage to me.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

From the Wainwright tapes

I'd been thinking of a way to contrive an interview with Loudon Wainwright for years, and I finally found a method, tieing the thing up to an Edinburgh show which is coming up, and presenting it as part of Scotland on Sunday's Fringe preview package. Unfortuantely, the interview was "a phoner" - half an hour of the telephone - so I never really got the material to do the great man justice. And then the article was shoe-horned into a tiny space.

You can read my article in the blog entry below. It's not as good as it should have been for all of the reasons above, plus my own inadequacies as a writer. But I read another magazine interview with Loudon which appeared yesterday in the UK, and despite that journalist visiting Loudon at his home, and writing a huge intro about dysfunctional families and what have you, I don't think the reporter got any more of interest out of the man than I did.

There's some decent exchanges on the tape too and since I didn't have much room in the paper, I'll stick a few of them here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A year after, Martha, Loudon's daughter, appeared with him on his own live album, she wrote a song entitled You Bloody Motherfucking Arsehole, about her dad.

What about Martha’s song about you, You Bloody Motherfucking Arsehole. What did you make of that?

Arrm … well you know … it’s a very powerful … er … emotional statement. I myself have been making powerful emotional statements, so you know … if you dish it out, ya gotta take it.

My 11-year-old daughter listened to your song, Five Years Old [about his love for Martha] and loved it. When I played Martha’s song about you, she got really depressed

Well, I’m pleased to hear that, but if she’s 11, she might just change. It is part of your job as a teenager to hate your parents. I mean it er … is a natural thing. Martha’s mom and I split right after Martha was born, so that is a personal tragedy. For everybody. So anger is certainly there, and understandibly so.

'A powerful emotional statement' sounds a bit meally
-mouthed – what did you say the next time you saw her ….

Arrrrrr … I can’t remember. How’s that for a diplomatic answer?

So it was a ‘powerful emotional statement’?

Er … You do what you do. Man the torpedos!

This bit of the transcript is about Loudon's dad.

I was surprised to find your father was a journalist … Because I sense in some of your songs that you don’t particularly like journalists …

Oh … You might be thinking of that song How Old Are You. I don’t dislike them as a group, Mike. Certain journalists I don’t like. My dad was a writer, a journalist and an editor. He worked for the great American magazine, Life, which was a huge thing in the 60s and 70s and in the war years, my God, it was the most important magazine in the World for a while.

Anyway, I … er … I think my writing has a journalistic quality, you know I describe things, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Hopefully people can follow the through line. But he was a journalist and a great one too.

A great one?

I’d say so, yes. He was a great writer. He has been dead now for 20 years. I’m always … I did a thing, a show up in the state of Maine not too long ago and I stayed in a bed and breakfast. They had a couple of old issues of Life Magazine. I opened one up and there was a column my father had written. About our dog being put down. This would have been in the early 1970s. And I was just …. I knew the writer and I knew the dog. I was in bits basicly, sobbing away. But I also scanned that article and sent it out to people. My dad really was a very good writer. Wrote a couple of very good songs too, so I was very influenced by him.

Did he admire you being a songwriter?

I think he liked some of the songs, or a lot of the songs. He probably didn’t care for a few of them, but that makes perfect sense. I think he liked the idea of me being a writer. He was pleased that I did wind up doing that.

About his mum's death, and his songwriting career.

You released Last Man on Earth after the death of you mum. Since then, there's been only one album of original songs, and commissions for a film and a show, and now there's a retrospective album. Is this some new phase in your career?

It’s hard to get an overview, when you’re actually writing. If you take the last two things, the Carl Hiassen project and Strange Wierdos, they were commissions. I was writing songs with another process in mind, a film and now a theatrical adaptation. I write pretty much how I write.

But you’re right, Last Man on Earth was a particularly personal album. A lot of that album was informed by the death of my mother and that was a hugely personally devastating event.

I would imagine that something like that would be almost exhausting …

Ummmm. Well, I wrote some liner notes for that record. I remember when my mother died I kinda folded up. I cancelled shows and stopped writing songs, just went in to a very …. Ah …. I want to say a kind of fetal position. But once I started writing the songs and got back to job – which is doing that - I wrote a lot of songs and it wasn’t … it’s an overused word when it comes to song writing, but things did kind of ‘flow’. That’s my memory of it anyway – that was about ten years ago.

You've had all these titles, the new Dylan and what have you, but now you seem to be accepted just as a songwriter, in the way that Randy Newman is … Not as a folk musician or any other kind of musician. And therefore to me it seems you get asked to do film soundtracks and involved in projects like this, just a songwriter. Does that make sense?

Yes it does. And I’m happy to be thought of in that way. I love folk music and folk musicians and I was influenced by some of them. I do think of myself as a song writer. My first influences before Bob Dylan and Jack Elliot and all those guys were the writers of musicals and Broadway shows, like Rogers and Hammerstein. They were my first role models really. I think my wrting is hopefully theatrical and whatever. But I am happy to be thought of as a song-writer – I don’t think of myself much as a folk singer.

Loudon proud

Scotland on Sunday, 27 July, 2007

Some collaboration this. Take the playbill at face value and you’d think the songwriter Loudon Wainwright had sat down and worked hand-in-glove with novelist Carl Hiassen in the stage adaptation of the author’s Lucky You. But you’d be wrong.

Before this project, one of the most anticipated productions of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Wainwright had walked past Hiassen’s thrillers whenever he’d seen them in airport bookstores. He’d never even picked one up, still less read a word. Even now the two have not met, and they have no immediate plans for a big hello. “I’ve a sister in Florida. Maybe I’ll go see Carl while I’m down there,” muses Wainwright diffidently, who’s talking at his summer home on Long Island.

When at last he was persuaded to read the novel – by the TV comedy producer, John Plowman - Wainwright was instantly hooked. The action focuses on an eco-friendly lottery winner called Jo-Layne who is pursued across Florida by two robbing rednecks. Along the way corporate greed, indifferent government and a poisoned environment have their bellies exposed in the darkest of comedies.

The result of their long distance relationship, is a stage play drawn from a bitter but hilarious novelist, enlivened by three songs penned by a writer who could have been Hiassen’s long lost creative twin, so close is their shared vision. “His book was truly funny and scary and funny and scary are two of my favourite things. In combination they’re always good,” reckons Wainwright. “You know, the world is a crazy place. Like me Carl can veer into pessimism, realism. I tried to put that into the songs, because its territory I’ve explored a bit myself.”

Just a bit. Over the best part of four decades, Wainwright has been the archetypical singer-songwriter, the One Man Guy of his own song. What sets him apart is his focus. Few writers are as funny, clever and articulate; none are as remorselessly personal.

His August album release, Recovery, features a re-recording of tracks from his first three albums including School Days (musings on college life) Drinking Song (about being drunk), and Motel Blues (the aftermath of a one-night stand), all mediated through Wainwright ironic eye. Some, he admits, he had to re-learn, “they’d just faded from the repertoire” but rediscovery was a revelation, and the recording sessions were a joy.

He has written so often about himself over the years, that anyone familiar with his work feels they know him. On the Acid Song, we laughed at Wainwright’s antics after he dropped a tab of LSD for the first time in ten years; we chuckled when he unwittingly tried to bed a lesbian in Synchronicity; we suffered when he was left bereft by the death of his mother. But in all this navel-gazing, is it an exaggerated version of himself described in the lyrics?

He chews over the question for a second. “I don’t know if it’s an exaggeration – it’s a variation. Certain things are changed to protect the guilty. But it’s a personal account, condensed and crafted and tailored to elicit the a response that I want. I had an acting teacher who once who said ‘You can’t just speak to camera and put it over to people just like that. There has to be a heightened reality.’ That’s true about writing and performing songs - it’s a heightened version of the person I am.”

Inevitably, when the subject matter is so often close to home, friends and family are drawn into the firing line, and named in his lyrics. He ticks them off on a list: “My parents, my kids, my sister, my brother, ex-wives, present wives, future wives. They are all in there. You know, they make for great song fodder.

“The people in my life are the most important in the world to me. I think about them all the time. I love them – they frustrate and infuriate me as I do them. So it seems perfectly logical to me that they’re in the songs.”

Perfectly logical too that Rufus and Martha, the children from his marriage to the folk singer Kate McGarrigle, should fire some shots back, now they have established themselves as successful artists. Rufus’s Dinner at Eight ruefully picked over the relationship between father and son, but kept matters fairly clean. Martha came up a whole lot dirtier with her song, You Bloody Motherfucking Arsehole, dedicated to the father who left home when she was a baby. Some title. What on earth did he make of that?

It was like taking a blow in the solar plexus, apparently. Three years on, Wainwright can hardly get the words out. “Arrm …well you know … it’s a very powerful … emotional statement. I myself have been making powerful emotional statements, so if you dish it out, you gotta take it. I mean, it is a natural thing. Martha’s mom and I split right after Martha was born, so that is a personal tragedy. For everybody. Anger is certainly there and understandably so.”

So “a powerful emotional statement” – how did he respond when he next met his daughter? “Arrm …I can’t remember. How’s that for a diplomatic answer?” He retreats: “Man the torpedoes!” Wainwright simply doesn’t want to talk about this. But it’s a fair bet that he doesn’t have the song as a ringtone.

What he might have said is that his own work is rather more subtle. History, the album written in the wake of his father’s death, exposed all his own emotions, but delivered a universal message. The song Four by Ten was about the wall that’s built into any loveless marriage, though his fellow feeling was with the father: “Once it’s up it won’t come down/ And mom's a queen and dad’s a clown.” No wonder so many heterosexual men of a certain age turn up at his concerts.

Well that’s a fact, he acknowledges with a laugh. “You know I am a guy, so I do write from that point of view. I know absolutely that some women enjoy the songs but it doesn’t surprise me that men show up at gigs and some of the women are dragged along kicking and screaming. I’ll meet a couple after a show and she’ll say ‘I’ve been subjected to your records since 1976. Thanks a lot!’ But I like to think, I hope, that some of the songs are just about being human, about being a person.”

After he debuted in 1970, for years he produced an album of original work every 18 months or so, and toured relentlessly. It’s not like that any more. These days Wainwright records a whole lot less and acts a whole lot more. He’s moved from New York and is mainly based in Los Angeles. Building on his training – he studied acting at university – he’s racked up an impressive list of credits in TV and film over the last six years, appearing opposite Ewan McGregor in Big Fish, and playing in Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

All the while, the songwriting has never stopped and although he had a cameo in Apatow’s latest movie, Knocked Up, his most important commission was for film’s score. “As good as he has ever been” ran a New Yorker review of Strange Wierdos, the soundtrack album: “He has not only retained his sharpness of wit but has also learned to cut with greater skill.” It’s a tribute to Wainwright’s genius, and his ability to channel himself into his work, that songs created for a teen comedy about a pregnant girl manage to shift the focus onto a poetic middle-aged man with a paunch.

He can’t always control his emotion so well. He shares a memory of his father, “a journalist and a great one too,” with Life magazine. “I did a show up in Maine not too long ago and stayed in a bed and breakfast. They had a couple of old issues of Life there. I opened one up at a column my father had written, about our dog being put down - that would have happened back in the early 1970s. I was just overcome. I knew the writer and I’d known the dog. I was in bits, sobbing away. I took that article, I copied it and sent it out to people.”

On top of his work for Lucky You, these days he’s prodigiously busy, what with the album, promotional gigs, and the acting. He’s happily married again – to his long-term partner, Ritamarie Kelly - but there seems to be a sense of urgency around his work. He laughs at the notion, and quotes a song from Strange Weirdos. “I’ve been Doing the Math,” he says.

“I’m going to be 62 soon and you’re never too young to die anyway. I do want to get some more work done. I love the job. It’s still exciting write a song, to get a commission, to act. But I wanted to be in show business. That was my dream and it came true. My life is a cinch, incredible. All I have to do is get rid of this paunch.”

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Bond's inspiration?

“My father couldn't understand how Dunderdale, in an apparently lowly job, could have a magnificent flat in Paris and gave amazing champagne and caviar parties all on the salary of a postmaster. But Dunderdale was a spy,” said Sir Charles. “Fleming, Fitzroy and Dunderdale. That mix was probably quite close to the Bond character: a writer, a man of action and a spy with a love for the finer things — there were a lot of beautiful émigré Russian ladies in Paris at that moment.”

He was widely thought to be the model for James Bond, and now Sir Fitzroy MacLean's personal collection of James Bond books have gone on sale. His son, Sir Charles told me that there was no sentiment attached to their sale. Read more at the link: Under the hammer.

My prose style is bad enough, but if you bother to read the copy at Timesonline, it has been mildly mangled in subbing, towards the end. The Sean who suddenly walks into the story is in fact Sean Connery.

There's more on the contraversial Caltongate project here: Inspection will not halt development.

I've also updated the Broadcast Sport link, in the column on the right. My pet whippet, Payton, gets a namecheck in this Sunday's offering. Or you can link to the article in Scotland on Sunday here: Wednesday morning, 3am.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Second impressions

To the Victorian mind, it was a decidedly off-message image. A woman, probably a prostitute, sits in a bar with only a drink for company. Her glass is filled with absinthe, as potent a spirit as money can buy. With the picture's heady mix of sex and alcohol, it is little wonder that Arthur Kay, the upright Scottish collector who had bought the painting in 1892, so rapidly sold it on.

But times change. Later this week, when L'Absinthe is unveiled in Scotland for the first time in more than 100 years, Edgar Degas's masterpiece will be one of the star attractions of the festival exhibition taking place at the National Galleries of Scotland.

Impressionism and Scotland will present more than 100 paintings by French, Dutch and Scottish artists whose careers intertwined around the end of the 19th century.

A large and valuable chunk of their output was bought during the passion for collecting that swept through the wealthy industrialists of Glasgow. More than that, say art experts, the relationships between buyers, dealers and artists would create a unique moment in history. Sadly, for Scotland at least, many of these extraordinary private collections were broken up long ago and the great masterpieces sold on, often to American collectors.

The Edinburgh show not only brings back many of the most famous works, “it will also tell us a great deal about a very important episode in the development of our own national school of painting,” said Michael Clarke, the gallery's director.

Among the most famous paintings to come to Edinburgh are At the Café La Mie, by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, James McNeill Whistler's Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge and many of Degas's great works including L'Absinthe and Jockeys Before the Race. There are three paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, others by Edouard Manet, Henri Matisse, and Paul Gauguin, and eight works by Claude Monet.

Part of Monday's Times preview of the big Impressionist show. If you want to read more, you can either wait till the other papers catch up on Friday, of go to the full version of the Times article here: Scotland's second impression.

If you're interested in the continuing row over the Caltongate development, go here for the latest coverage, including reaction to the news that Unesco will send an inspector to assess Edinburgh's claim to be a World Heritage site: City at risk.

Monday, 14 July 2008

The bare facts of ageing

False teeth, sagging breasts and varicose veins might not combine in a conventional image of the body beautiful, but a 75-year-old stripper from San Francisco believes that she can storm the Edinburgh Fringe with a show that will explode society's obsession with youthful good looks.

Lynn Ruth Miller, a former journalist who has only been stripping for three years, said that she was “living the dream” in an act that celebrates every fold and crease of her body, “revelling in the disasters” that the ageing process wreaks.

“If you want to feel old and inadequate, that's up to you, but there is a choice. I look like an old lady, I know I do, but I never suffer pain, I never get tired and it is so exhilarating to communicate with people. When I'm on stage, I'm talking to the world, saying, ‘Don't sit in your rocking chair - get out there and live',” she said.

For her show, Ageing is Amazing, Ms Miller has devised an eye-catching opening sequence that echoes Samuel Goldwyn's dictum: start with an earthquake and build up to a climax.

Emerging to the tune of the Strip Polka, over the next four minutes she sheds a robe and several chemises, to be left standing in front of her audience clad in billowing underwear, elaborately decorated with a fringe, bells and feathers.

Those who have seen her performances are rarely left unmoved. “I swear the audience went completely bonkers when this crazy lady stripped down to her granny panties,” one admirer wrote.

To read more about the sensational Ms Miller, go to the Times online: Old age stripped bare.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Motty saves best until last

SO. FAREWELL then John Motson. You were almost as irritating and humourless as Jimmy Hill, but not quite.

For years, decades even, Motson has been riling me with one of the strangest verbal tics on TV, his weird habit of placing the subject of a sentence at its end. It works like this, in a typical Motsonian moment: "That's the second chance that's fallen his way and this time he's hit the post, Fernando Torres."

This isn't how normal people talk, at least not these days. It's the Roman way of speaking, which you'll know if you ever took a Latin 'O' grade. Translating one of those sentences, you never quite knew where it was going until you reached the end – darned confusing, I called it 30 years ago, and it's still as baffling now.

Still, I couldn't help feeling sorry for Motty, who'd plainly had enough of his job by the time he took his last bow, at the final of Euro 2008. At the end of the game, his colleagues should have given him a chocolate watch right there in front of the cameras, but they didn't and I bet that hurt the lad. Motson certainly struck a downbeat note when he told Ray Stubbs in an interview on BBC online why he wanted to quit: "I didn't want to be seen to be deteriorating or declining and I wanted to finish in a finals tournament while I was still coherent."

Those are not the words of a happy man of 62. She really needs to take old Motty far away from his so-called friends, lie him down on a beach and rub fragrantly-scented oils into his back, Mrs Motson.

On to SW19 (as even Radio Scotland calls Wimbledon), where the week's most absurd hype surrounded Andy Murray, whose sporting prowess was paraded in every corner of the BBC after he came from two sets down to beat a certain Richard Gasquet.

It wasn't just the broadcasters who got steamed up. "Murray had come off the ropes like Muhammad Ali" sang a front-page puff on one of the dailies, evoking memories of the famous 'Rumble in the Jungle', when Ali took seven rounds of punishment from George Foreman, before knocking him out in the eighth.

But can you really transpose tennis to the boxing ring? Having a limp-wristed Frenchman ping a rubber ball in your direction for three or four hours is rather different from absorbing hit after hit from an 18-stone heavyweight champion. One way of testing the strength of the comparison would be to put Foreman and Murray in the ring together. Imagine the superannuated barbecue salesman laying into Curlylocks of Dunblane – I for one would've queued all night to witness that spectacle.

On Wednesday, the muscular Rafael Nadal destroyed the fantasy that the Scot might win Wimbledon, dismissing Murray in an hour and 50 minutes, the equivalent of a first-round knock out at the Royal Albert Hall. In the eerie silence which followed, Sue Barker wondered: "What can Murray do to beat Nadal, what can he add to his game?"

John McEnroe had an answer, but it wasn't one the player wanted to hear. "All he's got to do is look at his opponents, who work unbelievably hard," said Macca. "Nadal's spin and intensity are unbelievable. And one thing about Roger Federer, his serve has got better and better. Look at a guy like Murray, and you have to improve… Everything, to be honest." Bummer.

Naturally, Murray received lots of advice from Jeff Tarango and Pat Cash, the kings of the BBC podcast, who love to talk about themselves and about the men's game, but are curiously short of ideas when confronted by women – unless it's to rate them for their looks. This week they barely nodded at the Williams sisters as they processed towards the final. Perhaps the two male chauvinist piglets find these particular women more intimidating than Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova, whom they'd so brazenly patronised during the earlier rounds.

I hope my own favourite among the players wasn't hurt by being so overlooked. If she was, I'd be delighted if she dropped by my place in sunny Leith, where she could show me how she strings her racket, Serena Williams.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

"How many people are walking in the sky?"

The Times, 19 June, 2008

It is 34 years since Philippe Petit performed his masterpiece of “intimate theatre”, suspending a rope 1,350ft (410m) above ground between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, and stepping out into the void.

In 45 minutes he walked the 60m line between “my new friends” eight times; he sat on the wire for while, and even lay down as if sleeping. When he finally gave himself up, police threw him in a hospital for the insane.

Now Petit, in Edinburgh for the European premiere of Man on Wire, the elegiac documentary that charts his astonishing feat, is gazing from his hotel window towards St Cuthbert's Church and gauging the pitch of an imaginary wire stretched from its spire to the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle.

“To conquer the world, to run a wire between that beautiful church and incline it towards the castle — I am ready to do that tomorrow,” he muses. “It would take a few months of research and organisation and weeks of rigging. And it will cost a lot of money. But then, it will draw in a few hundred thousand people, and through the press, the entire world will witness another miracle.”

Why is it not happening, he wonders? “If the phone rings, and the mayor of Edinburgh says, Hey, Philippe, I saw your film and I know you would like to walk. My city says, Come here, let's do something.' That is my dream.”

It took six years for Petit to plan and execute his early morning walk over Lower Manhattan. Over the same period he carried out two equally terrifying high-wire walks between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral and over the arches of Sydney Harbour Bridge. All three were illegal, but their magic impressed even the policemen sent to pluck Petit from the sky.

In James Marsh's film, Sergeant Charles Daniel of the NYPD, the officer in charge on August 7, 1974, is describing events in the usual “I was proceeding down Broadway” kind of way, when he suddenly breaks off, exclaiming: “I figured I was watching something that no one would ever see again, that is was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Petit laughs: “He was pulled out of his condition of being a policeman.”

The walker himself describes his experience that day in mystical terms. “I had to make the decision to take my foot, anchored on the building, and put it on the wire. Not many people dare to take that first step - to land on the Moon, to dive into a great abyss in the sea. I feel that sensation each time I grab the balancing pole and start a high-wire walk. It is not exactly the same feeling each time, but it is a feeling of intimate decision. Not for nothing is it called the first step, like the first step on a new continent.”

There is he says, no fear, nor expectation, nor even a sense of letting go at this moment of absolute truth. “It is more of starting a voyage of exploration, in a world that has not been touched by man. Look out of the window. How many people are walking in the sky? None. It's a mythic voyage, something out of this world. What I feel out there - and I love it so much for that reason - is something that you do not feel on Earth.”

Petit, 58, was a childhood rebel from his bourgeois upbringing, who pulled off his most famous walks in his early twenties with the help of old friends from Paris. They are witnesses in Man on Wire, and most say the twin towers experience was as life-changing for them as it was for Petit. Few now send Christmas cards. Most poignantly, Annie, his lover and a partner in much of his training, lost touch with him soon after his “miracle of New York”. This severance, Marsh implies in the film, was because he slept with the American woman who embraced him after his release from custody and said, “Welcome to New York.” Petit recalls matters differently: his love affair with Annie was already dying.

As for the notion that he has changed, Petit insists he hasn't. He still performs conjuring shows in parks in New York, where he lives with his partner, Kathy, and practises high-wire four hours a day. But he hasn't had a professional gig for three years.

“The world has changed immensely,” he complains. “When most people think of what I do, they must say, ‘This man is mad. He's risking his life. It's insane. We should stop him and put him in jail.' We are surrounded by cowards, who have forgotten how to live.

“Why are we letting them dull our senses? My profession is to do beautiful things, but I need to be invited.”


Philippe Petit’s walk between the towers of the World Trade Centre on the morning of 7 August, 1974, made him an instant celebrity, knocking Richard Nixon off the front pages, the day before the president resigned over the Watergate scandal.

The NYPD quickly relented, dropping charges of trespass and disorderly conduct, on the condition that the high-wire artist performed for local children. This he did, stretching a wire over the Central Park lake. Petit even received a lifetime’s pass to the twin towers’ observation deck from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and his signature, inscribed on a steel beam, was lovingly preserved.

The destruction of the buildings by al-Qaeda terrorists is not mentioned in Man on Wire, the documentary of Petit’s achievement, but the film has an elegiac quality for the buildings and the people who perished in them.

“It is hard for me to talk about my personal feelings with all this loss of life,” says Petit. “I had toiled so hard to get to know those towers, they grew on me almost as a living entity, and when they fell I felt something was pulled out of me.”