Reading the first two paragraphs of Tony Palmer’s Wikipedia page creates a truly astonishing picture of the filmmaker you’ve probably not heard of. Director of over 100 films, stage director of theatre and opera, BAFTA and Emmy Award-winner, honorary citizen of New Orleans and Athens…the list of accomplishments goes on and on. Here is an individual befitting of a documentary, shining a light on his storied life and achievements.
Director Henry Thompson’s new documentary, All We Got Was Love, didn’t start out as a feature film. With Tony Palmer appearing at the Harrogate Film Festival back in March 2020 as part of a celebration of his work, the festival decided to document the event for posterity. “The initial plan had been to make a brief film record of the event on 12 March to use as a promotion for future film festivals”, Thompson says, “However, within a week of the event, the entire country was in lockdown. With ample footage and now, a lot of time on our hands, the production team set about a more extensive edit”. Built around the filmed record of Palmer’s Q&A session during the festival and a follow-up interview filmed at his home in London, the film attempts to give viewers an insight into Palmer’s life, work, and process.
All We Got Was Love is clearly a labour of love and, first and foremost, a tribute to Palmer. The film gives almost all of its’ time to Palmer and simply lets him speak, telling fascinating and insightful tales of his life and career and work with legends like John Lennon and Leonard Cohen. But while this is certainly a positive in some respects – Palmer is endlessly compelling with his anecdotes – it also creates a film that doesn’t feel particularly imaginative in structure or delivery. It is ultimately just a recording of a Q&A session with occasional clips of his films and bizarre footage of a lunch Palmer shared with the festival organisers that inexplicably appears to be filmed covertly, with the camera placed uncomfortably behind Palmer’s head. Sound quality in these sequences is also especially jarring, with the conversation often incomprehensible as it is drowned out by the sounds of the busy bar environment.
Palmer himself comes across as funny and effortlessly engaging in his wry anecdotes and insight, but the film around him often feels amateur and rushed. One wonders if the film would’ve been stronger if not shot and edited during the Covid-19 pandemic, and taking that limitation into account, it is hard to be too critical. Still, there is certainly a bigger and better film to be made about Tony Palmer and his career – but until then, this is better than nothing.
All We Got Is Love is a fascinating introduction to Tony Palmer’s staggering body of work, but an amateurish quality to this documentary gives this one the feeling of being a missed opportunity.
All We Got Is Love premiered at the Everyman in Harrogate on 23 July 2021, just after the relaxation of restrictions on cinema-going, as part of the 2021 Harrogate Film Festival. Tony was present at the screening and the post-film discussion. Further release information TBC.