Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

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lightning
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by lightning » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:22 am

An interesting review that makes it clear that footage wasn't lost, Leonard was holding it back until recently. Unfortunately, it misses the point of the Viet Nam war footage that dramatized "The Story of Isaac."


Leonard Cohen - Bird On A Wire
By Todd Totale
September 8, 2010
Leonard Cohen - Bird On A Wire (TMC)

The story goes that Leonard Cohen’s manager, Marty Machat, commissioned director Tony Palmer to follow Leonard around on a 20-date European tour with the intention of capturing a bit of the creative muse on celluloid.

The film Bird On A Wire sat in Machat’s storage until he passed away, at which time Cohen took over possession and kept the film in hiding. Recently, Cohen returned the footage to the son of his former manager, who immediately set about tracking down Tony Palmer to complete the project that had started four decades earlier.

Using the footage they obtained and combining it with stock footage and other archival material, Palmer presents a documentary that unknowingly captures Cohen making one of his most enduring characteristics: reclusiveness.

It’s a fascinating film, narrated by Cohen, his band members, and through the other players that crossed paths with the tour, a tour that seems to have the full intention of making Leonard’s star shine a bit brighter.

Spoiler alert: He fails miserably.

Leonard Cohen doesn’t seem to want to embrace the fame that’s being offered to him, and on occasion, seems resentful of the adulation that he receives.

He bites back whenever the audience begins applauding when they recognize the first few bars of his songs. By the third time this happens, Cohen seems ready to battle the offender, playing the same chords over and over until he gets the silence he craves.

“I can stand here for a long time…” he warns, waiting for the crowd to quiet. “I’m tough, you know. I can take this.”

At other moments, Cohen is incredibly sensitive, encouraging the cheap seats to move closer to the stage and then chastising the security personnel for addressing the invited with just a bit too much muscle.

“I know you’re just doing your job … but you don’t have to use your fists,” he lectures, before he gets pushed off the stage by the same hired headknockers.

The intimacy runs deeper as we see Cohen showering nude after a gig with longtime Columbia Records’ producer and musician Bob Johnson bathing in the stall right next to him.

The camera keeps rolling while Cohen ingests some acid before a show, tolerates interviewers who pose silly questions or who forget to hit the record button on their tape recorders, and it captures him looking increasingly troubled as he realizes that the everyday drama of playing music on the road may not be the greatest environment for someone blessed with more writing skills than social ones.

He loses it in the middle of one performance when the stage monitors begin to feedback. At first, he sings a spontaneous song (“Come on speaker! Won’t you speak to me?”) but as his patience expires, he smacks the microphone away and ends the performance.

Afterward, a pair of disgruntled fans corner guitarist Ron Cornelius to chew him out for “cheating” the crowd with the show’s early ending, suggesting to the infuriated guitar player that the next time they rehearse and check the equipment before opening the doors for the audience.

Cohen immediately intervenes and personally refunds the pair’s money.

But it’s the final show - Jerusalem of all places - where Cohen begins to completely unravel in mid-performance, and this time the crowd is much more tolerant of his neurotic breakdown.

He offers that the band will try to regroup backstage, but once he’s outside of the gaze of the adoring public, he curtly declares that he is not capable of returning to the stage. It seems that everyone has a say in this, from the intolerant to the enablers - they all state their opinion to Cohen, who ignores them in return.

Then he goes over to the sink and begins to shave.

Even with offers to refund the crowd their money, they stay. And after a few minutes of guilt trips and tactical comments from others, he reluctantly returns to the stage with a stunning rendition of “So Long, Marianne.”

Cohen finishes the song then immediately retreats backstage, an emotional wreck. But even while weeping, they pester him to go back on stage one more time.

You wouldn’t be far off in calling Bird On A Wire Cohen’s version of Don’t Look Back. Palmer’s vision is a bit hodgepodge at times, thanks to some pointless footage of Vietnam war atrocities during the song "Story of Isaac." It completely contradicts Cohen's own underhanded political stance, and it stops the film just short of becoming required viewing.

But what Bird On A Wire lacks in directorial craft, it makes up for in unmatched footage. This film becomes required viewing for any Leonard Cohen fan not for its song selection or for the performances themselves; it deserves a special place because it documents his reaction at being presented with an opportunity to become a bigger star than his sanity was prepared to allow.

Trailer: Leonard Cohen - Bird On A Wire (1972)
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tomsakic
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by tomsakic » Thu Sep 16, 2010 11:18 am

Excellent review.

I agree that war footage has nothing to do with Leonard at all and its inclusion is crap. The film is important as the archive document, but well, it doesn't have any clear direction of narration and "directorial skills", that's where I agree. It's a complete mess. Unfortunately my daily job as film scholar has to overcome, sometimes, a Cohenite in me.

If Palmer decided not to reconstruct the original film, but use the footage to make brand new film (new edit), he could have an excellent film about "Leonard Cohen not able to perform and fighting his relationship with the audience". This way the film doesn't have any clear line of discussion.

This saying, Harry Rasky's 1979 documentary is still the best Cohen film ever, made by a man of talent and deep understanding of Cohen's inner world. Spring 96 is also good. Lian Lunson's 2005 movie was full of dubious religious allusions and kitschy direction, while current tour videos (and line-direction in venues and arenas to the big screens) looks like they're directed by a robot whose software has delay. In Burgenland the big screens were literally falling apart, out of focus, being late for every move, line, or solo, then showing software messages, empty screens, backs of musicians etc. As Live In London succeeds in missing the first line of every song and every important move by Leonard. Somebody would expect you'd learn after 200+ shows what's going next and to which direction he will move, but well...
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by John Etherington » Thu Sep 16, 2010 12:19 pm

Tom - I would say that the one Leonard film that needs re-vamping is Harry Rasky's "Song of Leonard Cohen". It was the worst idea ever to have most of the dialogue taking place over a continual soundtrack of Leonard's music. For me, this makes the film virtually unwatchable (it's total schizophrenia!).
Last edited by John Etherington on Fri Sep 17, 2010 2:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
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tomsakic
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by tomsakic » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:03 pm

lol.

Each of this films can be used as excellent source for old-new concert films.

I.e. release of Rasky on DVD can contain: the original film on DVD1, and the full show, or selection from various concerts (if no single full show was shot) on DVD 2.

The same goes for Palmer's movie, he could reconstruct as complete ideal 1972 show setlist if he wanted to.

I.e. Leonard's version of the film (available on bootleg VHS>DVDR) has I Am the Man Who Wrote Suzanne, which is not in 2010 version. That means there are extra footage.
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neo
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by neo » Thu Sep 16, 2010 9:38 pm

I just saw that Bird On A Wire isn't distributed by Amazon.de either. It's just available from some private sellers there...
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by tomsakic » Thu Sep 16, 2010 10:34 pm

Tony Palmer Films probably solved copyrights for music (owned by Sony) only for UK...
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phillip
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by phillip » Sat Sep 18, 2010 3:47 pm

well all I can say is it was intersting far as when Leonard was on his 1972 tour I was 1 years old just a baby lol so it was interesting to watch film footage from this tour!
I have been a Leonard Cohen fan for 28 years feel free to email me if you wish to keep in touch!
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Davido
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by Davido » Sat Sep 18, 2010 10:20 pm

The film will be broadcast by the BBC on November 19th:
BBC4 10pm
- Dave
"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies"~ Groucho Marx
John Etherington
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by John Etherington » Sun Sep 19, 2010 12:53 am

Davido - It's surprising that they're showing it on TV so soon, with the DVD just out. Though, it's good that the film will get a potentially wider audience.
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by Shockvalue » Sun Sep 19, 2010 4:27 am

As presented in the Movie, the events around the concert in Jerusalem were interesting. It did clearly show a vulnerable( and emotionally unravelling) Leonard Cohen but with still an aspect of pretention or even "Prima Donna...ness" that seemed to be a product of the style of introspection of the time. There was great drama around the "persuasion process" which was a fitting end to an engrossing film, which allowed us an insight, albeit limited, into the character of the man. I found the dynamics of how he related to others particularly interesting. There was an aloofness, or even a social shyness aspect. Then there was the influence of "chemical enhancements". It was good to see Jennifer Warnes in the formative stages of her career. Couldn't help but think with all the issues with the sound system on that tour it's no wonder he demands perfection now. The professionalism of the man now in the concert context is very different. Times and people have changed and perhaps even for Leonard looking back on this film there are confronting aspects. The same "pretentions" referred to earlier were probably also evident in the halting of the song when he objected to the initial clapping, and way the two "protesters" were responded to after an earlier concert which had technical problems. Whilst there was a readiness to refund there was also an "how dare you" aspect from within the culture of the entourage. Generally it is a fine restoration of a film that is firmly grounded in, and reflective of the Times in which it was filmed.
Last edited by Shockvalue on Sun Sep 19, 2010 5:09 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by Phantom Stranger » Sun Sep 19, 2010 8:50 am

I would strongly recommend to people who want a copy to get it as quickly as possible. The letters from Sony to retailers and distributors must be working, as most every retailer is claiming the item is already either back-ordered or unavailable. Some have even stopped listing the item in the U.S. It is possible one might have to pay inflated eBay pricing for the DVD in a few short weeks.
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by 264811403188 » Sun Sep 19, 2010 10:33 am

'Bird on a Wire' is now available from Amazon.uk again, after being out of stock. I ordered it when there were only three left, and within an hour the last two were gone as well. So hurry up if you really want it.
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Davido
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by Davido » Sun Sep 19, 2010 12:48 pm

If anyone is experiencing difficulty obtaining the DVD, then go direct to:
www.tonypalmerdvd.com or www.voiceprint.co.uk

- Dave
"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies"~ Groucho Marx
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by bene449 » Sun Sep 19, 2010 10:29 pm

still selling autographed ones on www.leonardcohencafe.co.uk
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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Post by LisaLCFan » Tue Sep 21, 2010 7:33 pm

I finally got my copy of this wonderful film! It is a truly intimate portrait of Leonard Cohen and that tour. The camera work is amazing, it makes one feel like they are actually there (so, big kudos to Tony Palmer--great stuff, man!). And the song performances! Wow, stunning, to say the least! The timelessness and brilliance of Leonard's songs really shines through. This film gave me chills! What a treasure!
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