Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Tony Palmer's 1972 Documentary On Rock's Foremost Poet Finally Sees the Light of Day
Thirty-eight years after it was completed, a 1972 documentary following Leonard Cohen—the enormously influential poet, folk musician and, since 2008, member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—on tour in Europe finally has its moment. Originally made as a promotional film for the artist, whose record sales were meager at the time, Bird on a Wire was produced and edited by Tony Palmer, then famed for his seminal 1968 documentary All My Loving, an eye-opening dissection of rock n' roll that featured, among others, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Donovan. In Bird on a Wire, Palmer neatly captured the tour itself––threadbare, fraught with technical difficulties and emotional upheavals––but on first viewing, Cohen balked at the bare bones honesty of the film and demanded a complete re-edit from another source. The result was so disastrous that the film opened and closed on the same day, was forgotten about, then lost. In 2009, 294 cans of celluloid labeled “Bird an a Wire” were found locked in a Hollywood warehouse and immediately shipped to Palmer, who set about re-creating the original film he made all those years ago. The work is a visual poem—Palmer’s camera followed Cohen without judgment, opening the floor to the man as well as the artist. Today’s exclusive clip shows the music legend during an abortive attempt to ask a young German fan out on a date.