Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
There is a kind of movie sequence which Alfred Hitchcock always did well, and which most later directors have chosen not to do at all.
It involves the hero discovering information by being nosy. Little or no dialogue is used. Most of what the hero sees is in long shot, and we can sometimes not quite make out all of the details. Half-heard words float on the air. What is being spied on is none of the hero’s business, but he cannot resist the human need to be a spy, and neither can we.
The crucial developments in “The House on Carroll Street” are established with such a sequence, and so well is it handled that it casts a sort of spell over the movie. The time is the early 1950s, the height of McCarthyism. The heroine (Kelly McGillis) is a young woman who has just lost her job at a magazine, after refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Desperate for work, she takes a job reading aloud to an old lady. One afternoon, walking in the lady’s garden, she sees some figures moving in the tall back windows of the house on the other side of the yard.
She is intrigued. She moves closer, hiding behind the branch of a tree. She overhears an argument. She can tell that something is wrong but does not know what it could be. Later, on the street, she sees a young man who was standing in the window. She tries to engage him in conversation, but he resists. Eventually, piecing together a clue here and a word there, she becomes convinced that the people in the house are smuggling Nazi war criminals into the United States and that they have friends in high places.