Cohen, other musicians perform for the cameras

BY CATE MARQUIS, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Even if you don’t recognize his name, you have probably heard Leonard Cohen’s moving songs. Cohen’s songs have been played and recorded by Bono, Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright and a host of other rock and folk musicians, some of whom appear in the documentary film about the singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man. Likely you have heard his haunting song Alleluia, which has been on the airways and on the soundtrack of at least two films or perhaps the song that appears in the film’s title.

Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man is part documentary about Cohen and part concert film, with both Cohen and other musicians performing the singer/songwriter’s music. The documentary, which has played at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals, is set to open at the Tivoli Theatre on July 14.

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Cohen’s songs combine haunting melodies with poetic lyrics that are both personal and philosophical. Cohen was born into a Jewish family in Toronto, Canada but appeared on the music scene in 1967, just as the ’60s New York music scene of folk-rock musicians, poet-philosophers and artists was flowering. The singer/songwriter is a contemporary of Bob Dylan but he has not enjoyed the same level of popular recognition. But in the music and counter-culture world, Leonard Cohen is a legend.

Cohen was a key influence on those musicians and others who followed, and he offers a glimpse inside that world in his candid and revealing interviews. Cohen’s dry humor and unique take on the world come shining through, as he talks about his life and loves, philosophy and art. In interview footage throughout the film, Cohen talks about growing up in Canada, coming to New York in the counter-culture ’60s, about his many love affairs and his philosophical journeys.

The documentary focuses on a fascinating subject but a bit more documentary and less concert film would have improved the film. The sampling of Cohen’s music is great but there is just a bit too much of one tribute concert, a 2005 show in the Sydney Opera House, which puts more of the film’s focus on the other musicians and not enough on Cohen himself. A bit more archive footage of Cohen in his earlier days would have been a welcome addition, and that lack may frustrate those who are already Leonard Cohen fans. However, as an introduction to the man and his music, the documentary does the job well enough.

Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man features interviews and performances by Leonard Cohen, Bono, Nick Cave, Julie Christensen, Antony Hegarty, Anna and Kate McGarrigle, Larry Mullen Jr., The Edge, Beth Orton, Teddy Thompson, Hal Willner and Martha and Rufus Wainwright. The documentary is directed by Lian Lunson.