Leonard Cohen, (for those who might not have been around during that stormy
period), held a place of honor alongside the emerging legends of the 60's.
In a baritone register that is the aural embodiment of gravel, he astounded a
world with poetry that resounded for the ages. It wasn't all Beatles.
This homage to his creative uniqueness is an assemblage of tribute
performances by a lineup of artists who perform the songs and talk in
breathless adoration about their hero. You might think we're in the presence
The band of worshipers are, in part, Canadian countrymen who have every right
to be proud of their native son for his monumental representation of their
country via his medium of art. But musical documentarian Lian Lunson ("Willie
Nelson: Down Home") has wider significance in mind with the more dramatic
participation of U2 which, through The Edge and Bono, voice even more probing
adulation. Their sense of awe is built up until the dramatic finale and
crowning moment of the Cohen appreciation tour with their backing of the
master on "Tower of Song."
Other performances and verbal appreciations are by Rufus and Martha
Wainwright, Nick Cave, the McGarrigle sisters Anna and Kate, Beth Orton, The
Handsome Family, Perla Batalla and others. The general tenor of the act is
simple and straightforward, lacking showmanship but never lacking in emotional
expression. One of the more memorable renderings is "The Traitor, by intense
Like Bob Dylan, Cohen's style is couched in folk tradition and takes shape
from a personal vision instinctively forged into unignorable, inspiring
musical invention under visionary lyrics. In Cohen's case, poetic structure
and expression are the more dominant ingredients, but it's no less individual
or profound. The biggest difference is the dark tone of the Cohen opus,
which may account for his more esoteric appeal. Mystery, intrigue and mood
pervades his best work which, like "Suzanne" and "Hallelujah" are
masterpieces for the ages.
(K.D. Lang's version of the latter on her recent "Hymns of the 49th Parallel" album is nothing less than a
vocalism that is about as pure a realization of a song's plaintive tone and
dynamic range as I've heard. The backing is almost superfluous -- the a
capella part of it is that good. It's a thrilling, stop-you-in-your-shoes
rendition). The documentary doesn't exclude any of his best tracks.
Intercut with the performances is the master himself as a talking head. To
his credit, he's expressive, self-deprecating and generous with historical
and creative detail, though there's a strong feeling of self-editing and
reserve. One of his more revealing interview passages is his recall of the
encounter with Suzanne Verdal McCallister, a dancer who inspired him to
combine intimacy with universality into a song of plaintive genius.
Cohen's creative mind is spring fed by human experience and monastic
pondering. It's earthy, and gut-digging romantic. It's academic and
explorative, constantly challenging popular assumptions and loaded with
darkly weighted irony.
As inspiring as the talent of the subject and his interpreters are, the
movie package it comes in is weak in form and design with little technical
prowess to pull all its elements together into a flowing whole. But
editorial awkwardness is secondary to the music, and the songs compensate for
a novice's inability to synthesize the material more organically.
In the end, I had the feeling that I had been to church. Not so much because
I deify the man or got caught up in the prayerful sonnets of praise afforded
him but, rather, out of my own deep feelings for creative singularity toward
which this ascetic concentration on his primary masterpieces aptly and
rewardingly concentrates our attention. I understood the reverence.
~~ Jules Brenner