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Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2010 6:38 pm
by Davido
Another review : ... on-a-wire/

'Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire' Is Presented With a Naked, Visual Immediacy
By Christel Loar 29 September 2010
PopMatters Associate Music Editor

“Success is… success is survival.”
—Leonard Cohen 1972

Bird on a Wire follows Leonard Cohen on his 1972, 20-city European tour, which began in Dublin and ended in Jerusalem. A version of the film was shown theatrically, in limited release, in 1974, but disappeared shortly thereafter, the original print presumed lost. In 2009, however, pieces of the film, as well as original sound tracks, were discovered in a warehouse and assembled for this DVD which is beautifully presented in a white, gatefold digi-pak featuring a reproduction of Picasso’s “Dove of Peace” on its cover.

The package also contains a reproduction of the film’s original promotional poster and a collectible postcard. The most important part of this release is the film itself, of course. Thankfully, director Tony Palmer (200 Motels) has been able to use the found footage to restore Bird on a Wire to something that is very close to his initial vision.

It’s a breath-taking vision. Gorgeous cinematography, alternating between black-and-white and color footage, rich, resonant audio quality and a sort of loose-but-reverent intimacy combine with stunning live concert performances and candid backstage, interview and travel sequences to show Cohen at the peak of his popularity and the top of his game.

There are 17 classic songs and four poems featured in Bird on a Wire, including “Avalanche”, “Suzanne”, “Passing Through”, “Sisters of Mercy”, “One Of Us Can’t Be Wrong”, “Chelsea Hotel”, “Famous Blue Raincoat” and, of course, “Bird On A Wire”. Cohen sounds magnificent on all of these, naturally, while Palmer’s deft use of space imparts a certain feeling of actually being in the audience at one of these shows, or of being the subject of the poems, sitting just off camera as Cohen recites directly to you. The closeness of the camera evokes a deeper sense of shared secrecy, a naked and honest, almost overwhelming, visual immediacy that suits the raw, emotional weight of Cohen’s work.

It works well for the banter between songs, too. One close-up concert clip catches Cohen responding to a call from the crowd. He explains, “I love it when you call out like that. I believe that… that I’m going to meet my love. It’s going to be some girl who calls out”. He implores, “Call out”, and you want to, even though it’s 38 years later and he will not hear you. This affecting segment goes on with the tale of how it is both fortunate and justified that the next song’s rights were stolen, because, “It would be wrong to write this song and get rich from it too”. The crowd cheers as Palmer’s lens sneaks in ever closer and Cohen slips into the hypnotic and wildly romantic “Suzanne”. Quite honestly, the entire effect is rather devastating.

In the non-concert scenes and interview footage, the feeling is more akin to being a fly on the wall. Some of these moments seem surreptitiously captured, such as when Cohen is chatting up a woman backstage until it becomes apparent the camera has intruded. Others seem to be bits of accidental treasure, gathered in passing and only later revealed. Take, for instance, the clip where Cohen, speaking about creativity—or rather not speaking about it—tells an earnest interviewer that he doesn’t know anything about that, and that if he does, “It’s like speaking about one’s own religion… it doesn’t serve you to speak about those things”. When the journalist presses on, asking, “Well, what do you like to talk about?” Cohen, equally earnest, replies, “I prefer not to speak at all.”

This from a man whose words continue to call out across the years.

Rating: 8/10

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Mon Oct 11, 2010 10:41 am
by simonc1952
There is peculiar peril in "fansites"... the critical faculties dissolve in a welter of enthisiastic fervour. Take the re-release of "Bird On A Wire": well for a start it is NOT a re-release of the meditation which I saw premiered in 1974. The film that I used to see frequently in the late 1970's/early 1980s was in the nature of a largely contemplative, meditative exploration of a facinating poetic sensibility. The "re-release" adds the entirely (ENTIRELY) fatuous and grotesque "Vietnam" clips. Now I couldn't care less whether they were "supposed" to be in the orginal release.... The fact is that their ludicrous inclusion twists the meditation into an anti-war diatribe WHICH IT CLEARLY WAS NOT IN 1974. Again, in order to emphasise Leonard's "street fighting man" credentials Palmer re-edits to drag the piece about the men in orange coats (Tel Aviv 1972) to the front of the piece... emphasising conflict, aggression, fight.... Definitely counter to the previously noted more meditative piece. What was a counterpoint to the mood becomes the puerile "message". The "re-release omits the beautiful rendition of "You Know Who I Am"... again one of the more meditative aspects of the original.

Look folks, Leonard was NEVER an anti-war protester in, say, the Phil Ochs mould. This is an individual, ironic, intelligent, humorous, serious, ruminative sensibility. Sure, in the 1960s this may have included (been interpreted as having) some minor contribution to the Vietnam debate but THESE WERE NEVER THE MAIN EVENT. So the re-edited piece looks much more Tony Palmer than Leonard Cohen, whereas the original (and much-cherished) release was a sympathetic engagement with a poetic sensibility "on the road".

I guess you had to be there back in 1974... I will stick to my grainy, scratchy German TV version of the film. Could have been great but other egos have floated into the harbour... 5/10

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Mon Oct 11, 2010 2:02 pm
by Puddingdale
simonc1952 wrote:Look folks, Leonard was NEVER an anti-war protester in, say, the Phil Ochs mould.
Finally the actual point is made. :lol: I totally agree with you and am glad to hear that not everyone thinks the Vietnam scenes totally fitted the viewing habits of the 70ies or the original intentions of Bird On A Wire. Well, probably it fitted Palmer's interpretation of LC. No less, no more.
But I still think it is one of the things that keeps the documentary from being a filmic masterpiece. What it is, is a collection of interesting and unique material for fans. And I am still grateful for that. Although as stated before, it will not make the bootleg any less valuable. 8)

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Tue Oct 12, 2010 5:04 am
by Davido
This may throw some light on the issue of the scenes of war in the film - from The Quietus:an interview with Steven Machat:

Why the decision to add more modern footage and scenes of war and conflict?

SM: The footage was put in because my generation in 1972 lived and thought every spare moment about the US and the war machine. We even put God into our national pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, as all war nations need God on their side. This phrase was dropped in to the pledge in 1954, when our involvement in Vietnam started. My generation wondered, 'would I, or my brother, cousin, husband or friend be drafted next to fight this war to prevent the alleged Communist take over of Southeast Asia?', under the domino theory of the Pentagon or my generation living in Europe wondering whether or not the communists would attack. Leonard’s music at this time spoke to the wrong war killing behaviour of fellow man. Man needs to understand that we the human race are killing machines, that is how we finance our economies. WAR. If that scene works as intended, hopefully people will recognise that whether or not you are at a concert, you as a civilian are a part of this wrong war killing behaviour. We the citizens have the right and the collective power to stop wrongs. What was a visual political statement then is very apropos now.

The full interview can be found here: ... -interview

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Tue Oct 12, 2010 9:57 am
by neo
Very interesting interview. Thank you very much for posting this link Davido.

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Tue Oct 12, 2010 5:22 pm
by lightning
The Quietus piece makes it clear that Leonard was holding the film back but doesn't tell us what made him finally decide to return it to Machat. Was he legally obigated to do this? The inclusion of VietNam war atrocities reminded me of Tony Palmer's 1968 rock documentary "All You Need is Love" where he used much the same footage ( I forget exactly what images he used.) It had great impact at that time. However, people who watch these films are not the makers of war, more likely, those who already oppose it.

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Wed Oct 13, 2010 6:51 am
by dannycarey
sorry,maybe I just didnt see it:

Is there a bluray available?

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Thu Oct 14, 2010 6:49 am
by Davido
There is to be a special PRESS screening of Bird On A Wire at The Barbican Cinema (London) on Tuesday November 2nd at 8.45pm (prior to its broadcast on BBC4 on November 19th).
To apply for a limited number of tickets reply to (PRESS ONLY)
General Public tickets available direct from The Barbican box-office on line @ (type in Bird on a Wire).
- Dave

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Sat Oct 16, 2010 12:14 am
by bene449
Thanks, David. Got my two tickets for the show. Steve Machat and Palmer both attending, so should be a good night.

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Sat Oct 16, 2010 5:31 pm
by Davido
I have edited the above post.
Correction: Tony Palmer can only supply PRESS TICKETS for the Barbican.
General public tickets are available direct from the Barbican box-office on line @ - type in Bird on a Wire, then buy however many tickets you want.

- Dave

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Fri Nov 05, 2010 8:16 pm
by somewhat_nifty ... f-comments
Music Weekly: Bird on a Wire director Tony Palmer

With Leonard Cohen documentary Bird on a Wire about to hit TV screens, its director tells us about working with Cohen and how the project was reborn 38 years after being made

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Fri Nov 05, 2010 9:18 pm
by neo
Thank you for the link to the podcast somewhat_nifty!

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Mon Nov 08, 2010 6:35 pm
by Davido
By popular demand:
There is to be a 2nd screening of BIRD ON A WIRE at the BARBICAN cinema, London this Saturday 13th November at 9.30pm.

Book tickets, watch the trailer: ... 79&pg=3052

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 1:23 am
by MrRatty
I've just watched the film as broadcast by the BBC and enjoyed it very much, although not the new war scenes. I originally saw the film in the seventies and I notice some differences - the most noticeable being the omission of the section where the words to Suzanne are forgotten and improvised ... "I'm the man who wrote Suzanne ...". Does anybody know if the omission is because these sections of the film were missing or for other reasons? Sorry if this has already been discussed in this thread bit it is quite long and I have not read it all - sorry.

Re: Tony Palmer presents "Bird on a wire"

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 2:28 am
by lightning
There is another performance of Suzanne plus a story Leonard tells of how he was swindled out of the rights to his song, so I guess Tony Palmer must have subistitued one Suzanne segment for another. If there ever is a 2 disc version, "I'm the Man" will probably appear on it.