Monday, April 23, 2007

With Crazy Stunts Comes Great Responsibility

Since I’m sure most of you live and work in other cities (although if you live here you know there really are no other cities, with the possible exception of Los Angeles) many of you may not realize that next week is Spider-Man Week in New York City . There will be many spider and Spider-Man related events all around town, like a special spider exhibit at the Museum of Natural History (OK, that actually sound pretty cool), a scavenger hunt at The Bronx Zoo, original Spider-Man comics on display at the New York Public Library, a “Peter Parker Pizza Celebration” in various schools and (not making this up) a poetry slam at the Apollo Theater (winner gets a HD TV). I've also heard rumor that the hookers will be providing "We'll do whatever a spider can" specials, but that's unconfirmed, and apparently there is also a new film about the famed comic book character that will be opening in select theaters throughout the city as of May 3. I hope they’re able to get the word out about that, too.

So the city of New York is taking the week off to bend over to kiss Spider-Man’s hairy posterior. Hey, New York does stuff like this all the time, although I can’t ever remember them devoting an entire week to a fictional character. Sure, Spider-Man is a NYC-based comic and the movies are partially shot here (although sometimes they embarrass themselves by substituting other cites for New York, like when they tried to turn Chicago’s L train into the NYC subway), generating a certain amount of revenue, but to have gone as far as they have here is more than a little absurd. I’m sure Sony forked over a lot of dough to make this week happen, but when you consider that you have a movie here that people will go see regardless of whatever publicity your dredge up, what's the point of this entire endeavor? Especially when you consider the reports that SPIDER-MAN 3 might well be the most expensive movie ever made? When STAR WARS: EPISODE I opened, Lucasfilm took out very few TV ads or billboards simply because the awareness of the film and the release date were already off the charts. You'd think that Sony would know that the same is true with this film, but I guess that since they're in the habit of throwing money around, why not go all the way? In truth, however, this doesn't really impact anyone's lives that much (except maybe for those who have to work these events) and I can always ignore it if I so choose, although with all the billboards and bus ads all over the city, it's not going to be easy.

One of the reasons why Spider-Man Week is, excuse me, bugging me is in part because it's reminding me of another Spider-Man who is synonymous with New York City but has been all but forgotten in this day in age, and that's George Willig. Known to some as "Spider-Man" but also as "The Human Fly", Willig was an active climber from Brooklyn who, on the morning of May 26, 1977, climbed the South Tower of the World Trade Center from the street level all the way up to the top. Starting at 6:30am (when there would be fewer people around to try and talk him down), he began his climb using standard gear, which he modified for the tower to make the climb go easier. A pair of NYC policemen got on a window washing basket to talk him down, but he wasn't having it. Realizing he wasn't some suicidal nutcase, they rode all the way up with him and arrested him when he got to the top. Willig later signed his name at the top and was charged for his crime - 1 cent for every floor he climbed, which he happily paid. He became a bit of a minor celebrity, did some chat shows, and went back to living a life of relative obscurity, eventually working for a construction company. He did a few interviews after September 11 and even volunteered to climb the new Towers when they opened. I sincerely hope he does.

As a kid, I was absolutely obsessed with the World Trade Center. Like a lot of kids, I was fascinated by tall buildings and bridges, so when I saw Rick Baker in his ape suit climb the Towers in the 1976 version of KING KONG (vastly underrated!) my obsession became all-consuming. I got to visit them several times as a youngster and when this event occurred I was completely spellbound by it, posting the cover of the next day's NY Daily News to the wall in my room. In all honestly, I really don't know why this was, but it just was; we don't always have a choice in these matters. The 70s was also the era of the daredevil, Evil Knievel and the type, and while there had been a few other attempts at crazy stunts at the TWC (Phillippe Petit walked a tightrope between them in August of '74), no one ever scaled a skyscraper before and the TWC was the perfect choice. It also came at the right time, because NYC in 1977 was much, much different than it was today, more violent, not as tourist-friendly, not as economically robust and a hell of a lot scummier, too. They are often referred to as "good old days", but even back then the people needed heroes and while what Willig did wasn't really heroic, it gave the people something to root for and something to talk about that wasn't the crime rate or inflation. It was a positive in the face of a multitude of negatives the city was facing (and was about to face, such as the infamous blackout of '77 and the mayoral election of Ed Koch) and even with the towers sadly gone, this real life Spider-Man is more worthy of recognition than the fake one, especially with the 30th anniversary of his climb coming up next month. I like the comic book Spider-Man well enough, but as far as I'm concerned the only Spider-Man worthy of celebration is George Willig, because someone with the courage to do something that's never been done before, even if it is a little crazy, is always a true source of inspiration. Thanks, George!

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