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This was a frustrating experience to sit through. Part concert film,
part biography with historical footage & photos, part present day
interview, these various strands seem to be struggling with each other.
This was filmed primarily at a series of Leonard Cohen tribute
performances organized by producer Hal Willner in Sydney, Australia
during January 2005 under the banner of "Came So Far For Beauty". Many
of the same artists had also performed similar concerts during 2004 in
New York City and the UK. Interview clips with Leonard Cohen at his
home in LA along with some archival photos and film footage are
interspersed into the concert scenes.
The flow of this wasn't always very satisfying and there was one aspect that began to get more irritating the longer the film went on. The filmmakers begin sabotaging their own concert artists by editing/interjecting an occasional red sparkle/red sequin image over their performances, which you gradually realize is a foreshadowing of Leonard Cohen's own performance with U2 (filmed at a totally separate non-concert staged studio setting) to come at the very end of the film. It is like they're constantly saying: "Don't worry if you don't like this particular performance, Leonard Cohen himself is yet to come!". What kind of message is that to send in the middle of your film with other performers? Some songs are even interrupted in mid-performance by historical or interview footage and then when Leonard Cohen is telling some good anecdote we go back to another cheat sheet performance (many of the singers don't seem to know the lyrics, so their eyes and eyelids constantly have a downcast/lidded look as they look to their music stands for the words). Still, there are some terrific performances here by Rufus Wainwright (on "Everybody Knows", "Chelsea Hotel #2" & "Hallelujah") Martha Wainwright (on "The Traitor") Beth Orton & Jarvis Cocker (duet on "Death of a Ladies' Man) and former Leonard Cohen band alumni Perla Battala & Julie Christensen (they also lend terrific support for most of the other singers) on "Anthem" and with the greatest revelation being the single monikered Antony (actually Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons) giving a show-stealing rendition of "If It Be Your Will".
Leonard Cohen's & U2's seemingly mimed/lip-synced performance of "Tower of Song" comes as a big let down at the end. Even more frustratingly, the main concert's rehearsal clips show the rest of the singers rehearsing a group finale, which, after a search on the internet (see http://www.leonardcohenfiles.com/hw-sydney.html), I found out was the Sydney show's closing number "Memories" ("I walked up to the tallest and the blondest girl, I said, look, you don't know me now, but pretty soon you will, So won't you let me see, won't you let me see, won't you let me see , your naked body.") which would have made for a much more humorous and rollicking finale but is sadly not to be seen in the film. A great opportunity lost but perhaps still a future possibility for a DVD down the road. Still, Leonard Cohen tells some great stories and Rufus Wainwright gets to tell his own personal "Leonard Cohen moment" story and Nick Cave gets to talk about his discovery of "Songs of Love and Hate", but I would rather have had a pure concert film or a pure interview/biography (or better yet, both separately!) rather than this hybrid which doesn't satisfy either craving completely. The good moments rescue this enough to bring it up to a 7 out of 10.
I was completely mesmerized by the performances in "Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man" and really liked the juxtaposition of his voice talking with other voices singing his songs. I saw the movie at the Sundance Film Festival and fell in love with his songs all over again. I thought that hearing about his life through his words and commentary was totally absorbing and I enjoyed every minute of it. On another level it also introduced me to artists that I didn't know that well or at all. I am now a huge fan of Rufus Wainwright's who is a perfect person to sing Leonard Cohen's songs. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and recommend this movie 100%!
Leonard Cohen is a songwriters' songwriter, like Townes van Zandt,
about whom a documentary film appeared last year. The subject of this
new one, produced by Lion's Gate Television and now in limited US
release in theaters is famous here and in Europe and an icon in
Canada and still vital today, in his early seventies, after a very long
career -- though younger mainstream pop fans may be unfamiliar with his
name. A Jew from Montreal, the son of a successful haberdasher who died
when he was nine but left him money to live on, Cohen means a lot to
people who write songs or who've cared about lyrics from the Sixties
when John Hammond discovered him and the Seventies when Robert Altman
used his songs in McCabe and Mrs. Miller and on into the present day,
when he has returned to perform after an absence of over a decade,
partly due to financial need. But you won't get all this information
from this documentary. Nor will this be the ideal introduction to the
man and his work.
The film cuts into music with talking heads in the manner of such films and is mainly an editing together of a concert honoring Cohen featuring Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright, Beth Orton, Jarvis Cocker, and others with a long interview of Cohen at his home in L.A. interspersed with old footage of the man's life. Some overly pointed tricks with stills and overlays of red blobs are a distracting element in what otherwise is technically unimpressive film-making. The impression that emerges is that Cohen interviewed intercut with texts of his poems and himself singing would make a fine and intelligent film. Concerts by admirers would be another, lesser, film. Combining the two elements diminishes both and results in a film that seems slapped together.
At the end as a kind of surprise Cohen himself sings a song backed up by Bono and the Edge, who've sung his praises in words earlier. However this performance is unremarkable and not a climactic finale.
Cohen in his interview amid many wise and pithy remarks provides us with a tantalizingly sketchy narrative of what sounds like a fascinating life: we find out that he grew up in Montreal and was active with a group of poets there; has lived on the island of Hydra and in the Chelsea Hotel and made love to Janis Joplin and wrote a song about her; has a reputation as a ladies man but has spent "ten thousand nights alone"; has been ordained as a Zen monk and lived in a monastery on Mount Baldy; learned early the virtues of modesty and despair and the acceptance of failure as inevitable. We would like to learn more.
Respect is clearly due a writer-musician of such originality and intelligence, but apart from the uneasy linkage of interview and songs, the concert clips covered in this film might have been better if the performances had been more straightforward and less worshipful. The songs are made into anthems and the most essential element, the words, gets muddled. I'm pleased to be introduced to Rufus Wainwright, whose voice and personality are irresistible, and who's a Montrealer too. Nick Cave, whom some see as a kind of heir to Cohen as a complex lyricist, isn't half bad either in singing Cohen's songs, in a second-tier cabaret singer sort of way; his performance of Cohen's most famous song, "Susanne,"which even I immediately recognized, is not unworthy. And this is one place where the interview and the concert come together effectively, since Cohen comments on the song's actual origins just before the performance is shown.
There ought to have been more of the flat tuneless singing of Leonard Cohen himself, which is probably the best way to experience his lyrics, without too much musical embroidery. Is it that unlike Townes Van Zandt's, Cohen's Sixties and Seventies performances are unfilmed? The other speakers about the man are as worshipful as the concertizers. They go so overboard in praising him that they could be talking about Socrates or Jesus. Bono is an eloquent speaker, but not a precise one.
This overblown praise is curiously inappropriate for someone as modest and ironic as Cohen -- and so well able to speak for himself. When songwriters are also poets or wits, like Bob Dylan or Tom Lehrer or Cohen, they don't need tuneful voices but what they do need is clarity of diction -- which they have, and the men in the concert, Jarvis Cocker, Nick Cave, Wainwright, have, but the women performers, including Wainwright's own sister, tend to lack. The ideal audience for this film is one that can approach it already armed with worshipful reverence. If you know noting about Leonard Cohen, the place to start would be not here, but with his own recordings, moving on to the more detailed bios available online and then perhaps (though I haven't been there) to his published writings, which include both poems and novels. Only after acquiring a thorough familiarity with Cohen's writing and singing would one want to hear elaborate covers of his songs.
Some viewers of this film find Antony's performance of "If It Be Your Will" awesome and deeply moving. I found it awkward, peculiar, and embarrassing. Not for the first time in the film, egocentric hamming overpowered the simple power of the song. And ironically, when the performances most excelled musically, they seemed to lose touch with the Leonard Cohen flavor of the songs.
The director, Lian Lunson, is a woman from Australia who's a good friend of Bono and who has done a film about Willie Nelson and has the dubious honor of having composed the music for The Passion of the Christ. She has said Mel Gibson is a big fan of both Cohen and Nick Cave, and helped her get the film produced by Lion's Gate.
Leonard Cohen fans will love this movie and for those not familiar with
his work, they will be enlightened. The eclectic group of performers
who pay tribute to him for starters is one of the best line ups of
talent on the one stage. Seeing Nick Cave, Antony, Rufus Wainwright,
Beth Orton to name a few all paying homage to Leonard Cohen's work is a
Anyone familiar with Hal Willner's tribute concerts knows that it is a unique experience to witness one. Combining this concert caught on film and the beauty and wisdom of Leonard Cohen is a delight. It is not often that you get to see a writer and performer's body of work presented in such beautiful fashion. It also says a lot about Leonard Cohen that this group of extraordinary performers are so honored to pay homage to him. That alone says so much about the man.
I saw this film at the Sundance Film Festival and it was one of the best things I saw there.
Leonard Cohen is a master and this documentary is a fitting tribute to
a legend. The audience at the Film Forum in New York sat in awed
silence while the music washed though us and the lyrics cleansed our
souls. Sometimes, the words cut painfully close to the bone, reminding
us of our shared experience of being human.
Leonard Cohen goes to places most of us are unwilling to look at and brings back truth that no one can deny. Bono accurately describes it as going into the abyss and laughing at it. The artists performing his songs follow him there and brilliantly express the depth of his poetry set to music.
This is an outstanding film, documenting the poetic voice of our generation, and surely of many generations to come.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had the good fortune of seeing this documentary while I was at the
Toronto Film festival this year. I saw a bunch of movies at the
festival but was never moved as much as I was by "Leonard Cohen: I'm
I nodded my head when I read, weeks later, that Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman wrote that the film brought him to tears, because I too cried at several parts of the film.
I was on IMDb earlier this week when I happened upon the nasty review of this film (posted by a user on this site). While normally I don't post my opinions on these sorts of sitesI thought it appropriate in this case to clarify that the hybrid concert movie/biopic works very well and that neither part takes away from the other. Instead they fuse something new and, in fact, quite effective.
I felt that having the privilege of hearing Leonard comment on his own music and life while also having the chance to hear a younger generation of talented musicians sing some of my favorite Cohen songs was a rare and precious experience. The film-making only enhanced and streamlined that experience.
Moreover, seeing Leonard with U2 was fun and unexpected. Leaving the film with a sweet rather than bitter aftertaste. I find Leonard's humor to be his strongest asset in trying to make the sublime translatable. In that sense I thought that this oft emotionally evocative documentary managed to be as funny and light as it was serious and dramatic. U2 was an out of the ordinary touch but one that made audiences realize that even big rock-stars revere and admire the trailblazers before them. Moreover, Bono and The Edge speak eloquently and beautifully about Mr. Cohen.
In the end, "Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man" is a gem of a film. I will be seeing it again when it comes to theaters or on DVD. It made me think about art, life, music and fitting tributes. This is indeed a fitting tribute to a great man.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From his early days in Montreal, Canada to his current residence at the
Zen monastery on Mt. Baldy in California, artist Leonard Cohen
continues to inspire songwriters and increase his cult of followers
while only recording one new album within a nearly 15 year span.
The 9-year gap that separated THE FUTURE (1992) and TEN NEW SONGS (2001) was by far the longest in Leonard Cohen's recording career to many longtime fans chagrin. But the interviews with Cohen in this film seem to indicate that the fire is coming back into his belly and he might not only record again, but possibly tour.
Certainly the last musical selection in this documentary, which features Leonard Cohen performing "Tower of Song" with backing from the rock band U2 (that's right, Bono sings back-up vocals only), points up the merits of a world tour with guest artists, one that could propel the Canadian legend into the mainstream at last.
One of the most striking elements that separates this concert-docu from the many that have been released in recent years is the depth of the love that these performers and songwriters have for Cohen's music. They know how hard it is write powerful lyrics, and the fact that Cohen will spend as long as a year perfecting his verses it becomes no wonder that any other artist who hears his words for the first time is immediately a fan for life.
While some recent rock-umentaries have faltered (re: any Ramones docu) when trying to blend edited-down songs with 'talking head' interviews, this one marvelously blends both elements to the rhythm of the concert itself. Director Lian Lunson seamlessly weaves the songs and interviews together while letting the instrumental breaks underscore enough of the non-concert footage to keep the audience 'in' it. In this way, almost all of Cohen's lyrics can be heard in each selection and none of his lyrical impact is diminished.
Leonard Cohen is the 'heroin' of rock 'n' roll, in that once you've heard one of his songs you immediately want to hear more of what this man has to say. After listening to so many of his essential works in this film, you'll immediately want to hear the 'man' himself so be prepared (re: bring credit card) to leave the theater and hit the nearest record store for your post-docu 'fix' (re: stock up on Cohen's catalog or the dbl-CD that spans his entire career).
LEONARD COHEN fans unite!!! He's out of the monastery and back in the studio, so there's much more where that came from and hopefully many more new albums to come.
Music soundtrack (this will be one of the MUST-OWN albums of the year for LC-fans)
Pre-concert: Waiting for the Miracle - Sung by Leonard Cohen (album recording)
#1 - I'm Your Man - Sung by Nick Cave
#2 - A Thousand Kisses Deep - Sung by Linda Thompson & the Handsome Family
#3 - Everybody Knows - Sung by Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, with Kate (their mother) & Anna (her sister) McGarrigle
#4 - The Traitor - Sung by Martha Wainwright
#5 - Winter Lady - Sung by Kate & Anna McGarrigle w/ Martha Wainwright
#6 - Tonight I Will Be Fine - Sung by Teddy Thompson #7 - If It Be Your Will - Sung by Antony
#8 - Sisters of Mercy - Sung by Beth Orton
#9 - Chelsea Hotel #2 - Sung by Rufus Wainwright
#10 - Suzanne - Sung by Nick Cave
#11 - Death of a Ladies Man - Sung by Jarvis Cocker & Beth Orton
#12 - Anthem - Sung by Julie Christensen & Perla Batalla
#13 - Hallelujah - Sung by Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, with Joan Wasser
Post-concert performance (in New York):
Tower of Song - Sung by Leonard Cohen w/ U2
End credits song: I'm Your Man - Sung by Leonard Cohen (studio recording)
First of all, this documentary focuses on a concert that was a tribute
to Leonard Cohen, an artist and a poet that has been influential to
countless others. This Sydney concert gathered a lot of talent that
came together to celebrate his music. Lian Lunson, an Australian
director, has taken the best tracks of the historical presentation that
mixes well with the man it's paying homage to. Let the viewer be clear
that for a better picture of who this man is and what he has done in
his life, it will not be found in this movie. For that, anyone
interested in Cohen's life must go somewhere else because of the
limitations this medium had.
The life of Leonard Cohen is examined briefly as an on camera interview with him at his Los Angeles home. Several biographical bits of information are revealed during that conversation, but of course, it only covers the highlights of his life in sketchy details. One gets to know, for instance, about his early life in Montreal. The death of the father when Cohen was nine. His New York stay, at the legendary Chelsea Hotel, home of the cool people that influenced a whole generation. Then one learns about Mr. Cohen's introduction to Zen Buddism and his becoming a monk.
A curious note arises from the lips of Leonard Cohen's lips about being a notorious ladies' man, something he was always notorious for, and yet, how far from the truth it was. There is also a moment in which the poet reads for our benefit the introduction he prepared for one of his books being translated into Chinese, a culture that always fascinated him.
The concert itself is an excellent way to hear Leonard Cohen's songs as others interpret them. Rufus Wainwright sings three numbers to great effect. Antony makes a poignant appearance belting "If It Be Your Will", all tics and mannerisms, yet making the song seem new. Nick Cave has also two good moments interpreting "I'm Your Man", and "Suzanne", two of the songs closely associated with Mr. Cohen. Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen who back up most of the songs, are perfect in "Anthem". Martha Wainwright's take on "The Traitor" has a different edge when she sings it, yet it's one of the highlights of the evening.
The best is left for last. Bono, and Edge, who have been praising Mr. Cohen throughout the film come together to back him as he sings his "Tower of Song" in his own inimitable style. It shows a lot of generosity on his part leaving his own material to be reexamined by a younger generation that clearly loves him.
Lian Lunson shows she had the right idea in how to bring the concert into a movie that gives relevance to a man that had it all, Leonard Cohen.
This film was a disaster from start to finish. Interspersed with performances from "the next generation of beautiful losers" are interviews with Bono and The Edge as well as the performers themselves. This leaves little time for the clips of Leonard Cohen himself, who towers over everyone else in the film with his commanding yet gentle presence, wisdom and humor. The rest are too busy trying to canonize him as St. Leonard or as some Old Testament prophet. Many of the performances are forgettable over-interpretations (especially Rufus & Martha Wainright's) or bland under-achievements. Only Beth Orton and Anthony got within striking distance of Leonard's own versions by using a little restraint. Annoying little pseudo-avant-garde gestures are sprinkled throughout the film- like out of focus superimpositions of red spheres over many of the concert and interview shots, shaky blurred camera work, use of digital delay on some of Leonard Cohen's comments (making it harder to hear what's being said) and a spooky, pretentious low drone under a lot of the interview segments (an attempt at added gravitas?). For the real thing, see the Songs From The Life Of documentary produced by the BBC in 1988.
"Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man" is an entertaining and informative
tribute to the iconic singer-songwriter/poet.
Structuring the film as a mostly chronological autobiographical interview with Cohen, director Lian Lunson intersperses his personal family photographs and home movies with cover performances at a Sydney Opera House concert to illustrate themes in his life. While his experiences in New York City have been well-documented to fans, especially in his own songs, the depth of the influence of his Canadian heritage is a new insight. With only a humorous nod to his reputation as a "ladies man" (he sounds like every rock 'n' roller on VH-1 cheerfully admitting that he became a musician to pick up chicks), his spiritual explorations are well explained, including his Jewish background and a visit with his Zen mentor.
Unusual for this adulatory genre, Cohen is articulate about his songwriting as a painstaking craft in general, though only a couple of specific songs that we see intensely performed or the albums they are from are given more context, such as who "Suzanne" was and working with Phil Spector.
Throughout, the performers from Canada, the U.S., England, Ireland and Australia, male, female, straight and gay, discuss his songs and the impact they have had on their lives and art. While it is not mentioned until the very last credit, this 2005 concert is based on a packed 2003 concert in Brooklyn also produced by Hal Willner, as part of the Canadian Consulate's annual Canada Day sponsorship in Prospect Park, under the rubric "Came So Far For Beauty: An Evening of Songs by Leonard Cohen Under the Stars," which featured many of the same performers captured on stage here, including Rufus Wainwright, who relates surprising personal anecdotes about his formative connection with the Cohen family, his sister Martha Wainwright, his mother and aunt Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Nick Cave, the Handsome Family (Brett and Rennie Sparks), Teddy Thompson and his mother Linda Thompson, and Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen who have backed Cohen on his last two tours, with an all-star downtown NYC band led by the horns of Steve Bernstein and the master guitar of Mark Ribot.
Instead of Laurie Andersen at that magical night, added are Jarvis Cocker and Antony Hegarty (known respectively as the leader of the bands Pulp and Antony and the Johnsons, though that's never mentioned in the film) and Beth Orton. The performers are only identified in the opening and closing credits. While the concert footage nicely mixes close-ups and full band shots, it is more than half-way through the film before we hear any audience reaction, and we only see glimpses of the audience towards the end. Added climactically just to the film is Cohen singing with U2 at a small club.
The interviews are all talking heads, with the extensive Cohen conversations focusing on the planes of his face, particularly as the camera gazes at him adoringly during silences, including a lot of freeze frames. There is an annoying repetitive device of blurring with fades in and fades out, and theatrical focus on a back stage scrim of beads, accompanied by odd theremin-like sounds. This reinforces the somewhat cabaret interpretations of several of the performers that would seem more appropriate to a Tom Waits tribute and are very unlike the two tribute albums that have already been produced.
Cohen himself is so charismatic and his rumbling voice is so magisterial that he surmounts the visual gimmicks.
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