Monday, 5 November 2012

Tony Palmer’s “Bird on a Wire” film was a venture that started in 1972 as a film recording of Leonard Cohen’s impending European tour. Tony Palmer’s first contact with L.C. was as disappointing as it could be since the songwriter and singer said that he “didn’t want to tour again”. Added to this he had no record contract and he also mentioned that he did not want to make this film. Tony palmer had been profoundly moved by L.C. Book the Anarchy of Slaves… so their first interview was some sort of ice-breaking over the poems written by the singer. L.C. was quite intent on not being portrayed as someone who wrote “happy little love songs” but someone who wrote songs with a political message. So the recording started and Tony Palmer made very clear that He would be always filming , in any situation, and requested of L.C. to “never close the door” on the camera. The filming was done with analogical camera, so lighting became very important. After 4 weeks of filmmaking and touring in Europe and Israel L.C.’s manager wanted 30.000 dollars for its rights. Finally in May 1974, the 30.000 dollars were paid to put together or produce the film of which now 2 versions existed but Tony Palmer couldn’t find the original cans of film. Finally he found them in London- 296 cans! They were full of unused material but they still couldn’t find the soundtrack. A long time had gone by, almost 40 years!!! Miracles happen, so while they were in London in 2009 fiddling with the material they had found they knocked over one can and it was the one that contained the soundtrack!... so they had the soundtrack but still no pictures, so they started a process by which they would clean each fragment that had some recording in it and they found 3000 of those fragments and put them together into the film that is now “Bird on a Wire”.This film has now been processed so that it can be watched on DVD, with the original soundtrack and the 3000bits of film put together into a musical documentary of the tour that follows the original chronology of the concerts. Tony Palmer also told us that the drawing of the bird on the cover of “Bird on a Wire” is Picasso’s Dove and that he had to make numerous maneuvers and wait for several long periods of time to get legal access to the use of the famous painter’s drawing although one of the conditions of that use was that it remained painted in blue-its original color- and not in gold as the author of the film would have preferred. Luckily for him and after all the effort and wait he didn’t have to pay a single penny for using the famous bird. Summing up- the original film had disappeared; the second version had been lost; and the third version which is what you get when you watch “Bird on a Wire” has been reconstructed out of sheer luck in 2009. And that is all, as Tony Palmer said:”I’ve told the story.” Here is a direct quote from the author of the film:
“When, in 2009, 294 cans of film were discovered in a warehouse in Hollywood,” says Palmer, “in rusted up cans that sometimes had to be hammered open, and these cans were shipped to me by, of all people, Frank Zappa’s manager, I believed at first that nothing could be salvaged. The cans did not contain the negative (still lost); some of the prints were in black & white; and much of it had been cut to pieces and/or scratched beyond use. But when I finally opened one box and found most of the original sound dubbing tracks, I knew we had a hope of putting the jigsaw back together. So now, taking full advantage of the latest digital technology, this is what we have done, piece by piece, slowly and painstakingly. It has taken months and months, and probably has cost more than the original filming, and although it’s by no means perfect, it’s very close now to the original.”

1 comment:

Patricia Bou said...

Thank you, Elsa. That was really interesting!

So glad you could see this in our Facultat!!