Few people may not recognize the name Leonard Cohen but they have surely been touched by his music. When the Canadian-born singer/songwriter passed away in November 2016 there were many tributes held in his honor. Among the best was the opening of that week’s episode of “Saturday Night Live” featuring cast member Kate McKinnon alone at a piano performing what is possibly his greatest composition, “Hallelujah,” a tribute not only to the great composer but, as some saw it, a way to help put the country back together after the recent and rancorous Presidential election. In light of Mr. Cohen’s passing, Lionsgate Films has re-issued their 2005 documentary on the man and his music.
A small club atmosphere, an open stage and a single microphone. That is all the people who appear in this film need to pay tribute to one of their own. Not only do you fall in love with the songs being performed but occasionally with the performers as well. Though I’d heard of him for years, I had never HEARD Nick Cave perform. An amazing vocalist who takes Cohen’s words and puts his own stamp on them. When I was a kid all I knew about Rufus Wainwright was that he’d had a hit song on the radio called “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road.” Here too I discover another artist who is able to meld his craft with that of Cohen. And the progression of singers continues. Jarvis Cocker. Martha Wainwright. Even U2’s Bono and the Edge show up to sing the praises of a man whose work has so obviously influenced them.
Spliced in between these performances are interviews with the performers as well as with Cohen. We are given a look back at the man and the life that shaped him. He talks about his work and the things that influenced them. He talks about his image and how he has been perceived. The man is an open book and really no stone is left unturned. The film features archival footage of a young Cohen, learning his way musically as well as a more confident and older man, one always impeccably dressed. At whatever age, the man was a perfectionist, often taking over a year to complete one song to his satisfaction. But it’s obvious that the labor needed to make a song “just right” was truly a labor of love.
The only negative in the film is that often the live performances are abruptly interrupted by a quick snippet of an interview, killing the great vibe that the music has cast. It’s a little quibble, I know, but still I think the emotional impact of the performances would have been even greater had the musical numbers been shown uninterrupted. And if you’re looking for irony, I was shocked to learn that the film was produced by Mel Gibson’s ICON production company. To see Mel work so hand in hand with someone named Cohen makes you think there is hope for us all. Hallelujah!
Video: The film is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The concert work is a little darker in contrast that one would except and the archival footage, depending on the era, is occasionally rough.
Audio: The soundtrack is presented in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 and also has it’s problems. Due to the intimacy of the venue chosen for the live performances, many times an off camera comment will be missed. Musically, however you hear every note.
Audio Commentary with Director Lian Lunson: Informative but not overly. Lunson claims that she has never done a commentary before and it sounds like she’s not kidding.
A Conversation with Leonard Cohen (3:59): A short featurette with Cohen talking about the various songs and performers in the film.
Four songs that did not make the final cut.
“Tonight Will Be Fine” performed by Teddy Thompson (4:22), “Famous Blue Raincoat” performed by The Handsome Family (5:11), “Bird on a Wire” performed by Perla Batalla (6:36)
“Tower of Song” performed by Martha Wainwright (3:28)