12 July 2006 | noralee
The Voice and Songs of Cohen Surmount Visual Gimmicks
"Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man" is an entertaining and informative tribute to the iconic singer-songwriter/poet.
Structuring the film as a mostly chronological autobiographical interview with Cohen, director Lian Lunson intersperses his personal family photographs and home movies with cover performances at a Sydney Opera House concert to illustrate themes in his life. While his experiences in New York City have been well-documented to fans, especially in his own songs, the depth of the influence of his Canadian heritage is a new insight. With only a humorous nod to his reputation as a "ladies man" (he sounds like every rock 'n' roller on VH-1 cheerfully admitting that he became a musician to pick up chicks), his spiritual explorations are well explained, including his Jewish background and a visit with his Zen mentor.
Unusual for this adulatory genre, Cohen is articulate about his songwriting as a painstaking craft in general, though only a couple of specific songs that we see intensely performed or the albums they are from are given more context, such as who "Suzanne" was and working with Phil Spector.
Throughout, the performers from Canada, the U.S., England, Ireland and Australia, male, female, straight and gay, discuss his songs and the impact they have had on their lives and art. While it is not mentioned until the very last credit, this 2005 concert is based on a packed 2003 concert in Brooklyn also produced by Hal Willner, as part of the Canadian Consulate's annual Canada Day sponsorship in Prospect Park, under the rubric "Came So Far For Beauty: An Evening of Songs by Leonard Cohen Under the Stars," which featured many of the same performers captured on stage here, including Rufus Wainwright, who relates surprising personal anecdotes about his formative connection with the Cohen family, his sister Martha Wainwright, his mother and aunt Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Nick Cave, the Handsome Family (Brett and Rennie Sparks), Teddy Thompson and his mother Linda Thompson, and Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen who have backed Cohen on his last two tours, with an all-star downtown NYC band led by the horns of Steve Bernstein and the master guitar of Mark Ribot.
Instead of Laurie Andersen at that magical night, added are Jarvis Cocker and Antony Hegarty (known respectively as the leader of the bands Pulp and Antony and the Johnsons, though that's never mentioned in the film) and Beth Orton. The performers are only identified in the opening and closing credits. While the concert footage nicely mixes close-ups and full band shots, it is more than half-way through the film before we hear any audience reaction, and we only see glimpses of the audience towards the end. Added climactically just to the film is Cohen singing with U2 at a small club.
The interviews are all talking heads, with the extensive Cohen conversations focusing on the planes of his face, particularly as the camera gazes at him adoringly during silences, including a lot of freeze frames. There is an annoying repetitive device of blurring with fades in and fades out, and theatrical focus on a back stage scrim of beads, accompanied by odd theremin-like sounds. This reinforces the somewhat cabaret interpretations of several of the performers that would seem more appropriate to a Tom Waits tribute and are very unlike the two tribute albums that have already been produced.
Cohen himself is so charismatic and his rumbling voice is so magisterial that he surmounts the visual gimmicks.