Top critical review
But you don't really care for music... do you?
on 12 May 2016
I had never seen this film before. I was hoping for a concert; but this is not a concert: this is a documentary about a concert tour. Oddly (and frustratingly) for a documentary about MUSIC it actually has very few FULL songs on it. The listing on the case suggests 'Music includes performances of...' and then lists 15 LC classics. However, most of the performances here are either cut irritatingly short or interrupted intermittently with spliced documentary footage, a good sized chunk of which I found pretty superficial stuff. In that sense, this film reminds me of Dylan's Don't Look Back: plenty of shots of the beleaguered artist dealing with the mundanity of touring -- airport check-ins, groupies at receptions, and facing awkward questions by insensitive and poorly informed interviewers -- but very little real music! I think there are only three anywhere near full versions of songs here: Avalanche (over Leonard swimming naked), Story of Isaac (over horrifying Vietnam War footage), Bird On A Wire (over end credits!?). I guess this is because, as is documented to the extreme throughout, the tour was an overall disaster both in terms of organisation and that many of the performances seem to have been plagued by technical hitches. We even get to see snippets to illustrate these disasters -- how heavy-handed security guards dealt with an unruly Tel Aviv crowd; a brief comic interlude as Leonard sings an impromptu composition to a feeding back speaker etc etc. The bits that are often left out of most concert DVDs to make them more watchable and enjoyable become the mainstay here and add little to the viewing experience but an overall air of gloom and despondency. Sadly this is all at the expense of the brilliant music the artist was creating at the time, undoubtedly one of the highest creative peaks in his long and outstanding contribution to popular music.
Of course, as you'd expect Leonard has some fairly interesting things to say during the film. He is a frank, effective and often charming orator even in the face of adversity. Here, amongst other things, he exposes the music industry for the vulture we all now know it to be. But do we need to know? Or to be shown? Well, maybe we do, during that era perhaps more so than now. But that the entire film seems to have been put together to further bemoan that same fact over and over hardly seems constructive. By not showing us how music can triumph over such adversities it fails to illustrate why the public are often willing to tolerate the beast in order to have access to the kind of music artists of this calibre create. That seems to me a lost opportunity and the glaring flaw in Tony Palmer's film.
All in all, this is not the kind of DVD I would personally put on again and again to enjoy some music -- as I might with Leonard's Isle of Wight, Live in Dublin or Songs From The Road. In fact, I'm starting to wonder if I really need to watch this ever again. I give it a very generous three stars for the cinematography, the few pieces of music and poetry we do get, and because I'm a biased big fan.