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LEONARD COHEN: I’M YOUR MAN(director: Lian Lunson; cast: Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Antony, Linda Thompson, The Handsome Family, Beth Orton, Teddy Thompson, Jarvis Cocker, Perla Batalla, Julie Chiristensen, Joan Wasser, U2; cinematographer: Geoff Hall/John Pirozzi; editor: Mike Cahill; music: Leonard Cohen; Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Ms. Lunson/Mel Gibson/Bruce Davey; Lions Gate Films; 2005)
“Though a minor documentary and poorly filmed, there’s still enough of the wordsmith’s music to get over the mess.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Australian Lian Lunson’s uninteresting documentary on singer-poet Leonard Cohen hardly touches base with the artist’s lifelong search for truth and beauty; it flubs that attempt by filling valuable screentime with grating godlike praise from gushing admiring performers. When it cuts away from the performers and goes to interviews, it fails to dig out too much from Cohen in the interviews about his personal life. What we get from Cohen that’s of value is a brief sketch of him living in Montreal, becoming a Zen monk and a few pungent and clarifying comments about his songs (the interviews could have gone more in this direction, since when asked the man delivered; though I think the music speaks for itself and too much talk only makes it sound trite). After the film I didn’t know the very guarded Cohen any better than I did before seeing the film, except he was born a Jew, was overwhelmed by Catholic Montreal, and apprenticed himself for personal reasons on California’s Mount Baldy to Japanese Zen master Roshi.

“I’m Your Man” is built around a tribute concert for the 72-year-old legendary Canadian troubadour with the gravely bass-baritone voice and the austere presence of a holy messenger from the otherworld. The tribute is titled after a Cohen song “Came So Far for Beauty;” it was held at the Sydney Opera House in January 2005 and was organized by producer Hal Willner. Cohen performed only once near the end accompanied by U2’s Bono and Edge in a zesty rendition of “Tower of Song” at a special performance at NYC’s Slipper Room cabaret. Not having Cohen perform other than that, shortchanged the film of its star attraction. His repertoire of 13 songs was performed with great feeling but mostly not with the same effective results by such performers as Nick Cave (too much like a Las Vegas performer to be convincing as a Cohen interpreter, as he nearly ruins “Suzanne” and does only slightly better with “I’m Your Man”), Rufus Wainwright (does a good job on a solo rendition of “Chelsea Hotel 2” and then even better singing with sister Martha Wainwright and Joan Wasser “Hallelujah”), Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons), Beth Orton, Jarvis Cocker, Linda Thompson, Teddy Thompson, The Handsome Family, among others.

It’s hard to screw up a documentary on such a uniquely gifted, articulate, inspiring, interesting and intelligent artist as Cohen, but even though I’ve long been an admirer of his kitsch take on religion, his moody love songs and voice of doom that’s tinged with a healthy wry humor, the filmmaker kept things dull and didn’t include enough Cohen to make it zing along–a big mistake. Of the performers, I feared most for the jittery Beth Orton wondering if she would get through “Sisters Of Mercy,” one of the master’s more hardhitting spiritual tonics about letting go–something this movie couldn’t do.

Though a minor documentary and poorly filmed, there’s still enough of the wordsmith’s music to get over the mess.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”