Review: Leonard Cohen Bird on a Wire DVD

STUDIO: MVD Visual | DIRECTOR: Tony Palmer
RELEASE DATE: 8/31/10 | PRICE: DVD $19.95
SPECS: NR | 110 min. | Music documentary | 1.78:1 widescreen | stereo | English and French subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Bird on a Wire, ace music documentarian Tony Palmer’s (200 Motels) film of Canadian singer/songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen’s 1972 European tour, was released in 1974, albeit in a version that was not edited by Palmer. In 2009, pieces of the “lost” film and its original sound dubbing tracks were discovered in a Hollywood warehouse, affording Palmer an opportunity to restore his version of the film with the latest digital technology.

It was certainly worth the effort, as Bird on a Wire is a marvelous piece, with its textured cinematography (much of it in black-and-white), rich audio quality and inclusion of live concert performances and behind-the-scenes sequences showcasing Cohen at the height of his powers.

The Bird on a Wire DVD offers 17 song performances and four poems, recorded across the continent in such cities as London, Dublin, Paris, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Cohen has never sounded better — it was, after all, 1972 — and his trademark rich tones lend more power than ever to such highly personal but universal songs as “Suzanne,” “Avalanche,” “Chelsea Hotel” and the 1969 title track.

Diehard fans will particularly groove on the backstage scenes and interview footage, most of which is delivered and captured on the sly. Cohen is at his most contemplative yet playful during these moments, eager to connect but not ready to simply empty his heart out to a camera.

Fans also will enjoy seeing back-up singer Jennifer Warnes, a fixture on Cohen’s albums and tours for some 20 years, doing what she does best.

The DVD is elegantly packaged in a snow-white digipak emblazoned with a reproduction of Picasso’s “Dove of Peace” and containing a reproduction of the film’s original one-sheet and a color Cohen postcard.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.