Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Melissa is not happy. One minute she's engaged to handsome young Bill Harding, who has a promising career as a TV weatherman ahead of him. The next minute, she's cowering in a pickup truck while tornadoes blow houses at her. And Bill can't wait to find another tornado. “When you told me you wanted to chase tornadoes,” she tells him, “I thought that was a metaphor.” It is a metaphor, Melissa, but not for Bill's dream. It's a metaphor for “Twister,” a movie that chases tornadoes with such single-minded dedication that plot, character, dialogue and even your engagement all disappear into the Suck Zone--which is, we learn, that part of the tornado that sucks up everything in its path. By the end of the film, we have seen trees, TV towers, drive-in theaters, trucks, houses, barns and even cows sucked up by the Zone. Well, maybe only one cow. “I think it's the same one, coming past again,” Bill tells Jo.
Jo (Helen Hunt) is his first wife. Jo and Bill (Bill Paxton) worked happily together as storm chasers for several years, before something went out of their marriage (the movie is too breathless to ever tell us what that was) and Bill filed for divorce. Jo still loves Bill. Hell, Bill still loves Jo. Even Melissa (Jami Gertz) can see that.
As the film opens, Bill wants Jo to sign the divorce papers, and so he visits her out in a field where she's staked out with their old team, waiting for twisters to come by. Also staked out is the oily Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes), the “Night Crawler,” who is also a storm chaser--an evil one, we can tell, because all of his vehicles are black, and, even worse, he has “corporate sponsorship.” Before Bill and Jonas can exchange more than a few heated words and some wild swings (“Your temper hasn't gotten any better,” Jo observes), they're all careening across the countryside in pursuit of twisters. It's a good day for them. By the end of the movie, we will have seen five, including a double twister (“The Sisters”) and a dreaded Level 5 Tornado (“The Finger of God”--no prizes for guessing which one).
Before they split up, Bill and Jo invented “Dorothy,” which is a machine for studying tornadoes. Listen carefully and I will tell you how Dorothy works. Dorothy contains hundreds of little plastic spheres that have sensors inside. “You put Dorothy in the path of a tornado, and run like hell,” another storm chaser helpfully explains. In theory, the spheres are swooped up into the Suck Zone, and send back lots of rare information on conditions inside a twister.