Last night I watched again a documentary I had stored on an external device, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man (2005) by Lian Lunson. Much of it centers on a Sydney Opera House tribute concert in January 2005. Sydney blogger Don Perlgut writes:
In the Sydney Festival of January 2005, an historic Leonard Cohen tribute concert was organised at the Sydney Opera House by music producer Hal Willner. Called “Came So Far For Beauty”, it featured a fascinating array of musicians singing Cohen’s songs: Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Martha Wainwright, Beth Orton, Linda Thompson, Teddy Thompson, Jarvis Cocker, The Handsome Family, Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla. Australian-born LA-based documentary film-maker Lian Lunson obtained permission to film the concert, and subsequently went about making a documentary about Cohen. To do this, she befriended Cohen and conducted many hours of interviews with him.
The result is a deceptively simple but artfully structured documentary. Interspersed with twelve songs from the concert are interview segments with Cohen and others which illustrate and illuminate the songs with stories from and about Cohen’s life. Cohen is frequently hilarious, always humble and very thoughtful. It took me a while to attune to what was going on, but the result is frequently very moving and – for Cohen fans at least – always entertaining. I loved some of the musical interpretations (the Wainwrights doing “Hallelujah”), although found others distinctly odd (Cave’s “Suzanne”). The result is powerful, and after an almost unbearable wait to hear Cohen himself sing, the final number features Cohen doing “Tower of Song” taped in New York, with Bono and U2 as his backing band. Strange? You bet. Effective? Absolutely.
Yes indeed! But you may also be interested to read Walter Mosley quarreling with the man and the movie:
Still, there was something I didn’t like about Cohen.
Instead of watching the film a fourth time I bought the soundtrack and listened and listened and listened. Most of the performances opened new insights to these dark and troubled, brilliant and insightful songs. But it was the flamboyant and over the top Rufus Wainwright who seemed to get at the heart of the music with his performances. I didn’t feel that he was better than many or most of his fellows that evening but that he seemed, like a fiction writer, to get at the truth of the lyrics, the character of the man and the film.
It came to me after many days of listening that the only difference in Rufus’s performance was that he reveled in the cruelty of the lyrics. He was unafraid of the disdain and self-hatred that Cohen brought to his songs. These small musical and poetic masterpieces were not bits of objective nonfiction that condemn the culprits while secretly forgiving the poet (and therefore the listener). Cohen says that we are all guilty, we are all co-conspirators in the crime.
And so finally I understood that I disliked Cohen for showing me how I should be critical of myself. This final realization passed under my radar and into my soul. The film itself left no important moment out of the intelligence of the singer and therefore allowed the truth to come to light.
Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man tells the truth from the title all the way through to the last song returning us to the man who is for us.
Here are a coupple of highlghts: