December 6th, 2006
This movie is a tribute to Leonard Cohen.
Cohen himself only sings one song, but the concert scenes are intermixed with interviews and commentary from him and others. The movie was filmed in Australia but some of the performers, such as Rufus and Martha Wainwright and Kate & Anna McGarrigle, are familiar to Canadians; and Irish supergroup U2 is all over it.
Others include Nick Cave (”I’m Your Man”), British folkies Beth Orton (”Sisters of Mercy”) and Linda Thompson, Thompson’s son (with ex-husband Richard Thompson) Teddy Thompson (”The Future”), the Handsome Family (”Famous Blue Raincoat”), and Jarvis Cocker (”I Can’t Forget”).
I didn’t expect to like it because I think Leonard Cohen is a very great genius and a world culture hero. I don’t think anybody does his songs as well as he does, so what could possibly be the point of this movie?*
*Oh all right. There are two exceptions: Jennifer Warnes’ First We Take Manhattan from Famous Blue Raincoat, and Judy Collins’ Suzanne. I heard Judy Collins a couple of years ago at the Ottawa Folk Festival. When she sang Suzanne half the baby boomers started crying. Me too.
But in the end I liked it after all. Most of the performances are very strong, reverential of Cohen but not to the point of sounding like they belong in a museum.
Although I’m a big fan of hers, I didn’t know what Martha Wainwright looks like until I saw this movie. She performs “The Traitor.” Brother Rufus has several numbers, including “Everybody Knows” and “Hallelujah,” and their mother and aunt the McGarrigles sing “Winter Lady.”
One of the most captivating performances is a smoky half-falsetto version of “If It Be Your Will” from a single-named singer called Antony, whom I have never heard of before. I’ll be watching for more of him.
But despite all the fine music, the conversations with Cohen steal the film. I found I wanted more talk and less music.
The finale is a performance of “Tower of Song” with Cohen on vocals, backed by his great fans the lads from U2.
This film turns out to be well worth watching if you are a fan. If you are not a fan, and I realize some are not although it is a puzzle to me, it is time for you to start listening to Leonard Cohen. There are about 15 CDs. Start anywhere.