UK 1972

Documentary of
Leonard Cohen's World Tour

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

The poems, from The Energy of Slaves, include:
“Any system you contrive without us will be brought down”
“I perceived the outline of your breasts”
“The killers that run the other countries”
“Since I am now broken down, no leader of the borning world…..”

The world premiere of this feature film by Tony Palmer was at the Rainbow Theater on July 5, 1974, in London. The original version cost over 120.000 USD *) to produce, but Cohen was not satisfied. He spent six months in England editing and rearranging the film to show the deeper elements in music, the conditions that produced it, and his interaction with the audiences. It contains songs from albums as well as concerts, including those of Berlin, Vienna, Copenhagen, and Israel in March and April 1972. It is a documentary rather than an art film. Color, 90 min. (Ira Nadel: Life in Art, p. 111; Dorman & Rawlins: Prophet of the Heart, p. 279)

*) According to information received in 2010 from Tony Palmer the production cost of the original film (his version) was around £30.000.

Tony Palmer's classic version on DVD

In 1972 Leonard Cohen was considered to be one of the major singer song writers and poets of our time. It was decided by Cohen's then manager, Marty Machat, to make a film about Leonard at work, on tour and 'Off Duty'. The film was entitled Bird on a Wire and featured some fantastic performance footage. It was directed by the celebrated British film director Tony Palmer and scheduled for release in late 1972. After screening a rough copy, the BBC immediately bought the UK TV rights. But after 9 months of re-editing at Cohen's request, a second version was released in the 1974.

It was thought that the original film had been lost until more than 290 rolls of film in rusted cans were discovered in late 2009. The cans contained much of the original 'rushes' of the film, and especially most if not all of the original soundtracks. So, in 2010 with Leonard Cohen once again at the forefront of popular music, Tony Palmer has lovingly restored the film to much of its original glory. The film runs at 107 minutes, as did his original in 1972, and when it is released on DVD in September will include much that will make this the ultimate package for Leonard Cohen fans.

The DVD was finally released in September 2010. The world premiere was at the Leonard Cohen Event in Krakow, Poland, on August 6, 2010, presented by Tony Palmer himself!

Still photos from the film provided by Martin Rupps/3sat