Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
“Islands in the Stream” is a big, strong, old-fashioned movie about that threatened species, the Hemingway Hero. It celebrates physical courage and boozing all night and the initiation of boys into manhood, and it has a fishing scene, a battle scene, a love scene and a whore with a heart of gold. Papa would have loved it, and no wonder: He wrote it, and in many ways it's about him.
This was the posthumous Hemingway novel, assembled by his widow, Mary, from various drafts and stages of the work in progress. Its reviews weren't particularly good, and there's a possibility that Hemingway, had he lived, might have decided not to publish it. But it makes good movie material: The best movies somehow seem to come from second-rate books, while great literature resists translation into other forms.
The story takes place in the late 1930s, with the war clouds of Europe showing over the horizon. George. C. Scott, as Thomas Hutson, bearded sculptor, twice-divorced, rugged individualist, patrols the beachfront of his Caribbean home. He has a beer gut but projects a lot of latent strength, and he's clearly at home here. He inspects his boat, diagnoses his first mate's nearly terminal hangover, and repairs to the local hotel for a drink and some repartee with his favorite hooker. It's a big day: His three sons are coming for a visit.
We've already guessed that, because the first third of the film is boldly labeled “The Boys” (later we get “The Woman” and then “The Voyage” - nothing like your Hemingway story divisions written bold against the sunrise). The oldest boy, almost old enough to go off to war, is by his first wife and only true love; they were divorced because they hurt each other too much. The other two sons are by a second, less remarkable, former marriage.