Reviews

'Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire' Is Presented With a Naked, Visual Immediacy

Gorgeous cinematography, resonant audio quality and reverent intimacy combine with stunning live concert performances and candid off-stage sequences to show Cohen at the peak of his popularity and the top of his game.


Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire

Director: Tony Palmer
Cast: Leonard Cohen, Jennifer Warnes, Donna Washburn
Distributor: The Machat Company
US Release Date: 2010-09-21
UK Release Date: 2010-09-06
"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.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image