This film is a tribute to him and focuses on performances done in his honor by quite a range of musicians. There are some really great performances by Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, the McGarrigle Sisters, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Beth Orton, The Handsome Family, and Antony amongst others. It opens up with Nick Cave singing “I’m Your Man,” and later on we hear about Cave recalling how he was so excited to have found out about Leonard Cohen when he was younger because this separated him from the other people in his small town. Nick Cave also does a really great rendition of “Suzanne,” which is the better of the two covers in my opinion. (Then again, I also think that “Suzanne” is the better song) Rufus Wainwright does a trumped up version of “Everybody Knows” and brings down the house a bit when he sings many of the versus of “Hallelujah.” Jarvis Cocker’s “I Can’t Forget” is a bit of a let down (he would have been much better suited for “Everybody Knows” because of the lyrics he’s used to working with) but Antony (of Antony and the Johnson’s) version of “If It Be Your Will” is ethereally beautiful.
The major downfall and criticism I have of the film is twofold. The first is that it relied way too heavily on Bono interviews. Bono is right to call Cohen a rare talent but meanders a bit when talking about Cohen at times in a way that seems downright un-insightful. At one shocking point, Bono, who would probably see paint drying as a religious experience, says he doesn’t feel the religious experience in Cohen’s music. (So I guess he hasn’t actually read the entire lyrics of Suzanne when Cohen speaks of Jesus only being able to be seen by drowning men.) It’s a pity that the filmaker decided to allow Bono to sing on “Tower of Song” as well as it completely ruined that verse for me.
The second problem of the film is that it was made for already fans of Leonard Cohen. The disadvantage there is that anyone coming to see this film without a real knowledge and sense of history provided by listening to Cohen’s songs does not have enough chance to hear the songs as they were originally created by Leonard Cohen. It may have been a good idea to play segments of the songs as they were originally recorded in the background as they were showing pictures of Cohen as a child or hearing him talk about certain albums.
Overall, however, the film is still recommended for anyone who has a real love of poetry, lyricism, and music. My favorite parts included: seeing pictures of Leonard growing up in Montreal, hearing Rufus Wainwright talk about Cohen nursing a baby bird back to health, and hearing Cohen read the preface to his newly translated Chinese version of Beautiful Losers. It was also just a great thing to witness the obvious honor it was for many of these great musicians to be covering his material. You could tell that it was a really immense thing for them to do and that their love for Leonard Cohen’s songs run deep.
Leonard Cohen, I'm Your Man continues its run at the Music Box this weekend.
Download: Leonard Cohen - "Suzanne" (MP3)