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Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man (2005)

by on 2013/02/22

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man (2005)

“I found that things became a lot easier when I no longer expected to win.”

* * *

My mother has been nearly obsessive in her appreciation of Leonard Cohen. I’m sure she’d rank him “right up there” with Johnny Cash and Gordon Lightfoot

Her taste in music suits me fine but, despite buying an artist my patience, I won’t turn a blind eye – or deaf ear – to any old thing branded with their names. This mash-up is such a disappointment.

Leonard Cohen, cool. Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, not so much.

From its opening blurb, the bias is clear. The subject is “great” and the various performers who will interpret his work are “the finest”. I don’t agree with the latter – it’s an opinion – and I’d rather see the former demonstrated than declared.

Unfortunately, bias and opinion are no strangers to this production. Few will knock it, though, sharing its perspective. While most of it is a concert, much of the rest is interview footage and, other than Nick Cave reminiscing, speakers voice opinions without support. Only Rufus Wainwright delivers more applicable fact than fancy, describing his first in-person encounter with his idol.

It often comes across as a vanity piece, with little substance, no critique, and a lot of puffery. Cohen may be great and deserve his plaudits, but there’s an overload of unexplained adoration here.

I most enjoyed hearing from the man of the hour (and 43 minutes) explaining his verse directly to the filmmakers. In my experience, such sharing is rare with poets and lyricists. That said, he doesn’t always present himself directly or comprehensively, speaking in abstractions, reading aloud, sometimes seeming an elliptical trickster. For me, the single most illuminating fact was how long he takes to craft a song. If that’s all the revelation you need, I’ll save you some time: watch the trailer instead.

Having been a moderate fan of his for some years now, I’ve often thought on some issues which this movie never examined. Didn’t he grow up among the bourgeoisie? If so, how would that background influence his efforts, or their reception? What happened to migrate his voice down from his sinuses to his throat? Is it true he returned to music to restore his embezzled fortune?

I could look for answers online, but then why watch this video? Presumably to see his songs performed by others. I suppose this would be fine if I admired most of them, but only Jarvis Cocker and Teddy Thompson appealed to me. And considering what stalwart fans they all claim to be, too many seemed to be reading prompted lyrics.

To be clear, while I couldn’t reasonably expect a line-up of my favourite acts, why does Cohen himself appear just once? What about his notable interpreters . . . where are Judy Collins or Jennifer Warnes? And why is Joni Mitchell – whose part in his life is no doubt significant – never mentioned or seen, let alone heard from?

Shades of This Movie Is Broken, I’m Your Man is a victim of variety. Give us a biography or concert, but not this hodge-podge, with too little of both. I don’t want to hear admirers gush, I want more of our national treasure, in all his conceit and humility, his striving, soaring, and singed humanity. Anything else is distracting, frustrating, and a sorely missed opportunity.

* * *

Rated G (Canada) / PG13 (United States)

103 minutes

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