Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven'' has been praised for its painterly images and evocative score, but criticized for its muted emotions: Although passions erupt in a deadly love triangle, all the feelings are somehow held at arm's length. This observation is true enough, if you think only about the actions of the adults in the story. But watching this 1978 film again recently, I was struck more than ever with the conviction that this is the story of a teenage girl, told by her, and its subject is the way that hope and cheer have been beaten down in her heart. We do not feel the full passion of the adults because it is not her passion: It is seen at a distance, as a phenomenon, like the weather, or the plague of grasshoppers that signals the beginning of the end.
The film takes place during the years before World War I. Outside Chicago, Bill (Richard Gere) gets in a fight with a steel mill foreman and kills him. With his lover Abby (Brooke Adams) and his kid sister Linda (Linda Manz), he hops a train to Texas, where the harvest is in progress, and all three get jobs as laborers on the vast wheat field of a farmer (Sam Shepard). Bill tells everyone Abby is his sister, and gets in a fight with a field hand who suggests otherwise.
The farmer falls in love with Abby and asks her to stay after the harvest is over. Bill overhears a conversation between the farmer and a doctor, and learns that the farmer has perhaps a year to live. In a strategy familiar from "Wings Of The Dove," he suggests that Abby marry the farmer--and then, when he dies, he and Abby will at last have money enough to live happily. "He was tired of livin' like the rest of 'em, nosing around like a pig in a gutter,'' Linda confides on the soundtrack. But later she observes of the farmer: "Instead of getting sicker, he just stayed the same; the doctor must of give him some pills or something.''
The farmer sees Bill and Abby in tender moments together, feels that is not the way a brother and sister should behave and challenges Bill. Bill leaves, hitching a ride with an aerial circus that has descended out of the sky. Abby, the farmer and Linda live happily for a year, and then Bill returns at harvest time. All of the buried issues boil up to the surface again, against a backdrop of biblical misfortune: a plague of grasshoppers, fields in flame, murder, loss, exile.