Cinema Signal:

Book of Longing
by Leonard Cohen

Beautiful Losers
by Leonard Cohen

The Essential Leonard Cohen
The album

. "I'm Your Man: Leonard Cohen"

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 of Beethoven.

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 Martha Wainwright.

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.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

The Soundtrack


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Very good review, but I wish you would have made mention of Antony (Hegarty) who sang his heart out.

                                                           ~~ Julian C. 
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Leonard Cohen singing "Tower of Song"
Backed by a humbly respectful U2

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