Film

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man (2005)

Daynah Burnett
Leonard Cohen, Burlesque Girl and Bono

Lian Lunson's concert documentary, Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, works against itself, with too many gushing tributes and not enough Cohen.

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man

Director: Lian Lunson
Cast: Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright, Bono, Nick Cave
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Lions Gate
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2006-06-21 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

Leonard Cohen is what they call a "living legend." His songs, poetry, and novels have inspired and bemused audiences worldwide since the '60s. And it turns out that on screen, he's as engaging and enigmatic as in his music and writing. And yet, Lian Lunson's concert documentary, Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, works against itself, with too many gushing tributes and not enough Cohen.

The documentary comprises footage from a 2005 concert at the Sydney Opera House that paid tribute to Cohen's work, as well as talking-head footage of Cohen and the tribute-paying musicians discussing his legacy in anecdotes. True, the assembly of musicians is impressive, including Nick Cave, the Handsome Family, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and Beth Orton. But in their performances, many artists either try too hard to re-imagine the original (Rufus Wainwright's kitschy version of "Everybody Knows" exchanges the song's dark humor for camp) or overshadow the material to a fault (Jarvis Cocker's fey swagger on "I Can't Forget" strips it of its mystery).

Only twice do song and the artist coalesce into something as evocative as Cohen's work: Martha Wainwright's reticent vocals on "The Traitor" and Antony's tender restraint during "If It Be Your Will" both understand the songs as I do, when I'm listening at home with my eyes closed (perhaps the way Cohen is meant to be heard). In fact, the film hardly looks at Cohen's music head on, instead offering this assortment of interpretations and brief glimpses of Cohen that only make you hunger for more of him.

Lunson sets the precedent of Leonard Cohen, the man, as somewhat peripheral to the film at the outset, beginning not with Cohen, but with Cave singing "I'm Your Man." However, when Cohen does speak, the film does appreciate it: over a montage of black and white baby photos, he recalls that as a child he was thankful to be "alive in the horror." While it's striking that a child could think such a thing, as he tells it, his face composed, his eyes kind, you believe him. And when he explains that he would instruct an artist seeking "fulfillment" in life to abandon his masterpiece, because only this will allow him to sink into the "real masterpiece," the notion seems both personal and grand. After it grants access to such relatively profound thoughts, the movie then routinely cuts to a meandering performance from the tribute concert, each time giving the audience a chance to chew on Cohen's words.

Another pattern in I'm Your Man is the inclusion of streaks of glimmering crimson, at first inexplicably superimposed over Cohen's interviews or photographs. This motif, clearly inserted with much precision, is more distracting than illuminating. Eventually revealed as the backdrop for the final concert number, these shimmers, along with dream-like cinematography and audio hiccups, build an unconvincing mystery around a man who needs no such frills to be perceived as ethereal. (He is, after all, an ordained monk with the Zen Church.) The movie can't let Cohen be Cohen.

I'm Your Man's ultimate destination, Cohen sharing a cabaret-like stage with U2, is anti-climactic. This is underlined by the fact that Bono's praise of Cohen, staggered throughout the film, reads most disingenuous. After several over-the-top sound bites comparing Cohen to Keats or Byron, he turns to the camera and says, "I mean, come on, can we get serious? ... Cohen is a genius." And so, a rather unremarkable rendition of "Tower of Song," with Bono supplying backing vocals, seems unnecessary. This after the film submits repeatedly that Cohen is more literate and influential than anything in music today. How disappointing to see him at last, consorting with mere mortals.

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man - Theatrical Trailer

5
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.