Nothing gets me more hype than finding out that a musician I am a fan of is really as fucking weird as I imagined them to be. For instance, Prince. Now, if you’re a rabid Prince enthusiast like myself, you will have watched posted interviews and all of his videos on launch.com at every party you have ever been at where there is a DSL connection and people under the influence to indulge you. Maybe part of my fascination with Prince is that I like to make fun of how ridiculous he is, but empirically speaking, his videos are pretty out there (I recommend the video for “My Name is Prince”). After hearing Kevin Smith’s Prince story in “An Evening with Kevin Smith” however, it was demonstrated to me that the chain links he wears over his face in the aforementioned video are not to hide blemishes, but rather his utter egomaniacal insanity.
Leonard Cohen, for me, doesn’t reside in Prince’s echelon of eccentricity or artistic prowess, though his music and poetry is unique and captivating, especially when filtered through the deep octaves of his mystically untrained voice. The documentary “Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man” works to bring out some of the freak in this ex-hipster turned Zen Master. With all the earnestness of an earnest man, flamboyant singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright relates that his first encounter with Leonard Cohen went something like this: he walked into the Cohen house and found Mr. Cohen, aka the ladies man, in nothing but a pair of underwear and…he was regurgitating a piece of breakfast sausage into the beak of a convalescent bird he was helping to rehabilitate.
“Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man” is a musical tribute to this artist, who is part Gordon Lightfoot poetic folk, part Tom Waits with a cathexis on love and sex, a little Jack Kerouac, and a lot of idiosyncratic connection with the unconscious musical force that blesses only those chosen to receive its transmission. The tribute section of the documentary consists of footage taken from a January 2005 concert in Sydney , Australia shot by director Lian Lunson. All of the Cohen classics are performed by fellow Canadian musicians and a slew of Indie big shots — oh, and of course, the annoyingly ubiquitous U2. Bono and his sophomoric faux philosophical commentary is unfortunately allowed almost as much screen time as Cohen himself. It is almost as if, and maybe this is me just bitterly ranting, that a day doesn’t go by where I am free of Bono in all his amoebic forms. My second hand intake of Bono is greater than that of my parents. Sorry, Mom.
The performances are an ill-balanced hodgepodge of masterful presentations of the material — “Everybody Knows” and “Hallelujah” sung by Rufus Wainwright (wearing a gaudy rhinestone necklace like my grandmother or the Queen of England), “If It Be Your Will” by some portly Robert Smith looking dude named Anthony who had an incredible voice and incredibly coked out mannerisms, and “Tonight Will Be Fine” by Teddy Thompson; plus, inorganic, SNL worthy renditions by the McGarrigle sisters, Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen. Performances by Nick Cave , Jarvis Cocker and the others fall somewhere in between.
Ostensibly, the value of the film is in the biographical information about the man behind the music, his turbulent life and acquiescence to a Zen outlook. As a viewer, I felt that, since this section was given much less attention than the less than average concert, I was cheated out of information on how Cohen went from being a poet outside the mainstream to a famous musician, what his life was like during his years on the road and many other vital facts pertaining to what seems to be a life nourished by an expansive wealth of captivating experiences. When he is given a chance to speak, Cohen’s narratives are humorously self-effacing, negating, poignant and far more compelling than anything else in the film.
Fans of Cohen will enjoy “Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man”, maybe not so much the performances but as a whole. Cohen newbies and posers, like myself, will find it to be an adequate introduction to this brilliant artistic demigod who admonishes himself and all of us to, “Abandon your masterpiece. Sink into the real masterpiece”.
Lian Lunson (director)
CAST: Perla Batalla, Bono, Nick Cave, Julie Christensen, Adam Clayton, Jarvis Cocker, Leonard Cohen, Antony Hegarty, Anna McGarrigle, Kate McGarrigle