"It's a record about looking for some kind of transcendence as well as trash."
-- Bono, on Pop
Leonard Cohen: The Man. The Music. The Movie.
@U2 reviews the film, Leonard Cohen - I'm Your Man
June 13, 2006
A prolific writer. A musician without a singer's voice. The poet of his generation.
No, I'm not talking about Bob Dylan -- I'm talking about Leonard Cohen. His name alone conjures up images of despair, yet he has inspired scores of artists to dig deeper into their own wells of intrigue and produce similar masterpieces. For years, mystery has surrounded this understated musician. Finally, his story is told in the new documentary Leonard Cohen, I'm Your Man.
As you may know, U2 play supporting roles in this performance-heavy film. The Edge and Bono are prominently featured alongside other musicians, offering their commentary on Cohen's life and work. Bono compares him to poets like Lord Byron and William Butler Yeats, while the Edge offers the audience a historical background on the habits of monks (trust me, it makes sense in the context of the film). As usual, their insights are quotable, their thoughts sentimental and their delivery eloquent.
The movie is presented in a hypnotic mode, not unlike most of Cohen's music. Anecdotal stories from Cohen are juxtaposed with tribute performances by his famous fans. The productions range from campy (Nick Cave on "I'm Your Man") to tender (Beth Orton and Jarvis Cocker on "Death of a Ladies Man") to downright excruciating (Martha Wainwright on "The Traitor"). But they all seem genuine and true. The songs are paired with descriptions of what was going on in Cohen's life at the time of their creation, making it easy for the casual fan to keep up with the die-hards and follow along.
Unsurprisingly, Leonard Cohen himself offers the most entertaining prose. As childhood photos flash by, he describes his early influences; while a scrapbook of his album covers is displayed, he quietly recounts the bad times that led to some of his most celebrated work. His demeanor is calm yet endearing, and his manner is charmingly self-deprecating. If you don't like Leonard Cohen as a man before seeing the film, my bet is that you'll have a change of heart after viewing it.
That said, the movie might not be for everyone. Without some prior knowledge of his catalog, the music sequences especially could be terribly boring. The pace is slow and methodical, and not all of the guests featured are as charismatic as our boys. If you're seeing the film only as a U2 fan, I recommend waiting until you have the power to fast-forward when the DVD version is released.
The highlight, of course, is the finale where Cohen performs his hit "Tower of Song" with U2 in New York City. The set is visibly different from every other performance in the film, with the band situated in a tiny area in front of a tinsel-like curtain (which is strangely reminiscent of pixel panels during the extreme close-ups). U2 are definitely U2 by visual standards -- Bono in his glasses, Edge with his knit cap, Adam off to the side and Larry smoldering -- but there's a way about them that we rarely see. In this room, on this stage, with a different lead singer at the helm, U2 are session musicians. Probably the most famous session musicians ever to grace a film, but a back-up band nonetheless. Cohen commands the audience in such a way with his effortless expression and flawless delivery that when they pan over to Bono, you actually wait impatiently for them to pan back to Cohen.
Of the four, Adam is clearly the most comfortable band member at this gig. The jazziness of the tune fits perfectly into his rhythm; one shot of him shows his eyes closed in a musical meditation as he plays. The Edge rarely glances up from his guitar and Bono looks to Cohen much like a younger sibling waiting for approval, in awe of his grace. It's a pleasure to watch U2 this way, as genuine fans paying tribute to one of their idols.
Leonard Cohen, I'm Your Man is released June 21st in select cities.
© Kokkoris/@U2, 2006.