Original Post - Friday, September 29, 2006
Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man
DIR: Lian Lunson • PROD: Mel Gibson, Lian Lunson • DOP: Geoffrey Hall, Lian Lunson, Brit Marling, John Pirozzi • ED: Mike Cahill • CAST: Leonard Cohen, Bono, Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker, Antony Hegarty, Martha Wainwright, Beth Orton, Hal Willner
I love Leonard Cohen. There, I've said it and now I'll face the barbs and the attacks on my masculinity. His voice (often derided for tunelessness) has a depth comparable with that of Johnny Cash. But while Johnny has a voice to go to work to, Leonard's has a dreamy quality; it is a voice to fall asleep to in the arms of dreams and philosophy. I have a recurring dream where I live in a large empty house with a Leonard Cohen album on the turntable in a room I can never quite get to. I first came across his 'Songs of Leonard Cohen' among my parents' cassettes, so his is a musical presence that goes right back to my earliest memories.
So an invite to review a documentary feature on Leonard Cohen seemed an irresistible way to spend a long lunch hour. Okay, so it would focus on a concert of his songs performed by others, but the show produced by Hal Willner who has a knack of doing these things that I've admired since his tribute to Brecht and Weill, 'Lost in the Stars'. There is even a very pertinent link; Willner has worked with Robert Altman, who famously used Cohen all over the soundtrack of McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
We open with Willner talking briefly about putting together the show, which seems to presage a 'putting on a show' documentary. But this is not to be the case. The performances are then just used to punctuate (if I'm feeling generous) or extend (if I'm not) the film to the required feature length. We also have interviews with the performers from the Willner show which, apart from Rufus Wainwright's account of his first meeting with Mr Cohen, don't go beyond platitudes. We then have footage from what seems to be a couple of interviews with Leonard Cohen and some bombast from Bono and The Edge (e.g. drawing on the full range of his inter cert poetry, Bono informs us that Cohen is like our Keats or Shelly). These interviews are shot against a door, and it's clear that these were just captured before or after the 'climactic' performance of Tower of Song, where Lenny shows less care with collaborators than words, and fronts U2. This goes some way to explaining the offhand nature of the interviews.
Both the performances and the Cohen interview footage have interest, but most of the platitudes don't. The performance with U2 is clumsily presaged with red dots which gradually coalesce into images of a showgirl who then appears onstage with Cohen and U2. It's almost as if the filmmakers can't get over the fact that they have U2 and Leonard Cohen together. It's more of a Hello magazine exclusive than a considered element of the documentary. The finale of the show which has formed the backbone of much of the documentary is ditched completely in favour of this U2/Cohen video.
On the basis of this, Leonard Cohen is clearly a fascinating subject for a documentary, and there is definitely a taste of that in this film. However, I suspect there have been and hope there will be better films made on this subject.