Bird finally flies free

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Bird finally flies free

Post by sirius » Thu May 05, 2011 4:09 pm

Bird finally flies free

How a classic film on Leonard Cohen was lost — and found again

By Walter J. Lyng

It took almost 40 years but Tony Palmer’s film on Leonard Cohen, Bird on a Wire, is finally being shown the way he meant it to be. After working with The Beatles, Cream and Frank Zappa, making a film with Cohen should have been business as usual for Palmer. But as the filmmaker found out in an October 1971 meeting, this project was going to be a little bit different.

“I was asked to go see Leonard’s then manager Marty Machat in New York,” says Palmer. “He asked if I would be interested in making a film on Leonard Cohen. I said, ‘Possibly,’ and then, all of a sudden Leonard walks in. I was about to shake his hand when Marty very promptly said, ‘Leonard, we haven’t finished talking yet. Can you wait outside?’ That was my introduction. Leonard was sent from the room!”

According to Palmer, Machat didn’t want Cohen to hear what he was about to tell him. At that point in time, Cohen was struggling commercially and his then record label, CBS, was on the verge of dropping him. Furthermore, Cohen simply had no desire to tour and agreed to do only one more the following year. Stuck with a fledgling client who seemingly had issues with self-promotion, Machat asked Palmer to make this film about Cohen as a last-ditch effort to boost his image.

Cohen agreed to make the film so long as it wasn’t the typical rock n’ roll tour movie and that his music was taken seriously. Palmer’s only condition, meanwhile, was that he have complete access to the star.

“When we were on tour with him for a month, the thing that was very clear was there was not a PR man or record company executive in sight, because the record company didn’t want to know about him,” says Palmer. “It was just me and him, basically. If he got in the sauna bath, we got in the sauna bath.”

Using only a crew of four people including himself, Palmer had the film done and edited by May of 1972 at a cost of $35,000, all paid by Machat who wanted to spare his client any expense. It was shown to Cohen and then to the BBC, who bought the film immediately. There was only one problem.

“Cohen felt that the film was too confrontational,” says Palmer. “Naively and out of respect for him, I said, ‘Leonard, here’s the material, if you think you can make it less confrontational, go ahead.”

Giving the raw material to Cohen, however, would prove to be a huge mistake.

“I was thinking I would see him in a month’s time with some minor changes,” says Palmer. “Two years later, and $250,000 of his own money spent, came version two.”

Palmer was kept away from the new cut of the film and it aired only a few times and with no fanfare before disappearing without a trace.

Although he had given the film to Cohen, Palmer holds that it was others who re-edited the film in a way that removed the artistic integrity that Cohen himself had asked for.

“They buggered it up,” says Palmer. “They cut out all the poems because they thought they weren’t interesting. What morons could these people have been?”

In the years that followed, bootleg versions of the film were circulated and an occasional clip would show up here and there, but neither Cohen nor Palmer knew what became of the original material.

Nearly four decades later, upon a chance meeting with Machat’s son, Palmer became newly dedicated to finding the film. A minor miracle occurred when the raw footage was discovered in a warehouse by Frank Zappa’s manager, who was looking for footage from 200 Motels, a film Palmer made about Zappa.

In total, 200 film canisters were discovered, but the condition in which they were found made this a bittersweet moment.

“Some of them were terribly rusted up,” says Palmer. “You had to chisel the damn things open.”

Although the footage was there, it was in equally bad condition and chopped up, making it nearly impossible to reassemble. When Palmer accidentally found the film’s original sound dubbing track, however, he suddenly had a guide to help him put together roughly 3,000 pieces of film like a huge jigsaw puzzle.

“Thank God for the digital technology,” he says. “I don’t think we could have done this even five years ago. It was a real labour of love but you don’t want to speak to my bank manager.”

Initially coming into the project as someone who was more a fan of Cohen’s poetry than his music, Palmer says his appreciation of Cohen has only increased.

“I love his performances now, but his voice really had a kind of an eloquence and haunting quality in ‘72 and he sings in such total conviction because the songs meant a lot to him,” he says. “Now seeing it 38 years later, my admiration for him has just doubled.”

Bird on a Wire will screen at the Corona Theatre on May 11 at 7 p.m. Palmer will be in attendance.
For more information, visit http://www.theatrecorona. com/siteANGLO.html
We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky
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Re: Bird finally flies free

Post by seadove » Fri May 06, 2011 8:04 am

There are two types of audiences for Leonard Cohen. Those, like us, that are connected to Cohen in the same wave length and want his poetry just as much as we want his songs, and the commercial side of the coin. Meaning the rest of the mass media who appreciate good music without this pain of listening to poems which donot mean anything to them most of the time.

As I take it from this article the year was 1972 and Cohen's popularity was in "commercial" decline. There was an attempt to disclude heavy material such as the likes of poems from the film because it was directed to the "mass" media, not people such as jarkko, seadove and sirius,and other fans of this forum, who are anyway conquered and convinced by the various talents of Cohen and donot need any film to boost up his career for our benefit.

In retrospective, did all this make any differance? If you look at Cohen's massive success today "without" the help of the film I would say that it certainly did not make any differance. All true artists "must" under go a dry spell in their lives which will, in the end, only enrich and enhance their capabilities to the extent of how we all know Mr Leonard Cohen of today.
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Re: Bird finally flies free

Post by Fljotsdale » Sun May 08, 2011 12:44 am

D'you know if it is it going to be released anywhere else, or on disc?
Only just found this video of LC:" target="_blank

This one does make me cry.
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