Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man (2005)

Genres - Music  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Concerts, Vocal Music  |   Release Date - Jun 21, 2006 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 104 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom, United States  |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Amanda Van Keuren

Having never been what one would call a mainstream artist, Leonard Cohen has earned his loving and supportive fan base the old-fashioned way, winning people over during the course of his decades-spanning career with his resonating deep voice, brilliant lyrics, and memorable personality. In Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, a cluster of such fans, who also happen to be musicians, offer up their own renditions of some of his songs, paying homage to a man who helped inspire them -- offering thanks, as participant Nick Cave puts it. The film is mainly comprised of performances from a series of tribute concerts filmed in Sydney, Australia, in 2005 intercut with bits of an extensive interview with Leonard Cohen in his Los Angeles home; some vintage footage, photographs, Cohen's drawings, and images of his writing float over the top of it all.

The style in which these two main components of the film are spliced together is disorienting at times, mainly because of the strange delay put on certain sound clips, which is interesting, but makes what's actually being said hard to grasp. Also, director Lian Lunson seems to have been going for somewhat of a foreshadowing effect by flashing up brief images here and there of a red sequined shimmer, and once, the back of Leonard Cohen's head. These shots later reveal themselves as footage from the performance that closes out the film, "Tower of Song," done by Cohen himself (accompanied by U2), but taken as they come during the course of things, they seem a little out of place and strange (especially that shot of his head). The slightly surrealistic editing doesn't take away from the integrity of the actual footage, thankfully. It's still a rare privilege to see an interview with the man, and to see other musicians honoring him so unabashedly. Cohen talks freely about his life, but the parts that were included in the film are mainly the more infamous ones, such as his stint as an ordained monk on Mount Baldy in California, his encounter with Janis Joplin that inspired "Chelsea Hotel #2," and the charmingly botched album Death of a Ladies Man, which Cohen says he never quite mastered.

Each performance was obviously done with great respect and admiration, even if they aren't all perfect technical gems. Some have little quirks which make them endearing, such as "Everybody Knows" -- featuring Rufus Wainwright, his sister Martha, their mother, Kate McGarrigle, and her sister, Anna -- in which one of the McGarrigles gets a little overzealous and lets out an extra "and," or when Jarvis Cocker goes into spastic mode at the end of "I Can't Forget." There are moments of brilliance, of course. Antony, a relative newcomer from New York City, gives a shockingly beautiful rendition of "If It Be Your Will" that may bring unprepared viewers to tears. Nick Cave's performance of "I'm Your Man" is powered by a massive amount of charisma and panache and is a fitting opening number, and former Cohen backup singer Perla Batalla receives fervent applause during her duet of "Anthem" with Julie Christensen. Occasionally, the topics of the interview with Cohen synch up with the performances, and things end up with the man somewhat coyly flirting with the idea of ending his extensive hiatus from touring, followed immediately by the aforementioned rendition of "Tower of Song" with U2 as backing band (filmed separately from the tribute concert). Whether Lunson intended this last scene as a hidden clue to Cohen's fans that the once-reclusive man was serious about a tour, or tossed it in merely to feed the rumor mill, it will undoubtedly hang in their minds.