Thursday, June 16, 2011

Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire

GB © 1972 The Machat Company © 2010 re-mastering Isolde Films. P: Martin J. Machat, Steven Machat. D+ED: Tony Palmer. DP: Les Young. S: recorded by Ivan Sharp and re-mixed by: Tony Anscompe, Lance England. Film restoration: Blair Wallace. Digital editing: Miles Clennell. EX dvd: Rob Ayling. Featuring: Leonard Cohen. The musicians: Jennifer Warnes & Donna Washburn (voc), Ron Cornelius and David O'Connor (gtrs), Peter Marshall (bass), Bob Johnston (organ). In memory of Marty Machat (1921-1988). 106 min
    A Tony Palmer digibeta viewed at Lapinsuu, Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival (Tony Palmer), 16 June 2011.

Music includes performances of: "Avalanche", "Suzanne", "Tonight Will Be Fine", "Passing Through", "Sisters Of Mercy", "Who By Fire?", "Story Of Isaac", "One Of Us Can't Be Wrong", "The Partisan", "Chelsea Hotel", "Nancy", "Famous Blue Raincoat", "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye", "So Long, Marianne", "Bird On A Wire".

"On March 18th 1972, Leonard Cohen began a 20-city European tour, beginning in Dublin, and ending in Jerusalem on April 21st. Other cities included London at the Royal Albert Hall, Paris, Stockholm, Vienna, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, and Tel Aviv. This film is an impression of what happened during that tour."

In the presence of Tony Palmer, hosted by Peter von Bagh. Tony Palmer was in great form although it was past midnight. Leonard Cohen had decided that he was never going to tour again, his record company had cancelled his contract, and Cohen did not want to make the film at all. But Palmer had become interested in Cohen because of his poems, and that was what broke the ice. Cohen did not want to focus on the love songs but on political meaning. 16 mm film was slow and difficult in challenging lighting circumstances. 16 mm film would need a lot of light while Cohen wanted to turn the light down. The budget was 30.000 USD. After Palmer had edited the film he let Cohen have a look at it. Two years later, at the cost of additional 280.000 USD, Cohen had another version edited which he hated even more. After a transmission on a small German tv station the movie effectively vanished. It become a lost film. Bootlegs of tapings from the German transmission circulated. Every month Palmer received a thousand e-mails asking "where is the film?" Recently Palmer received the rights back to 200 Motels ("the worst film in the universe" [quote corrected based on Anton Asikainen's remark]) and checking the warehouse for the footage were found 48 boxes labelled Bird on a Wire. They were outtakes in terrible condition and in rusty cans. But there were the original soundtracks and from 3000 tiny fragments the film could be reconstructed digitally. It is pretty close to the original. - For the dvd release Palmer acquired the rights to use Pablo Picasso' Dove of Peace as cover art.

An excellent tour documentary focusing on Leonard Cohen's rapport with the audience. The performances are deeply soulful, and the interviews are candid and unpretentious. "I'm aware of the limits of my talent". "I don't have a good voice". "Anything's that's popular is not really good". "But I give them something to return the love they feel". Politics: "All songs have a political meaning. Loneliness is a political act." In Berlin: "I'm trying to break free, myself". - In Jerusalem: "I'm always practising". - This film is about the love affair between Leonard Cohen and his audience. Cohen gives the audience his total presence and respect, is rewarded by affection, and gets moved to tears by the collective love of the audience. If Cohen feels he is not focusing completely, he cancels the concert and gives the people their money back. Tony Palmer catches this interaction with sensitivity.

A precious documentary of a legendary performer.

1 comment:

Anton Asikainen said...

I believe Mr. Palmer's comment on 200 Motels went: "the worst film in the universe". Bird on a Wire is not.