- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2006

While Leonard Cohen cuts an obscure figure in the present-day U.S., his haunting, spiritually charged compositions, commanding voice and larger-than-life personality have been wildly influential on generations of songwriters, even though he started his career as a poet and novelist. The enigmatic Montrealer is a favorite of some of the most outstanding singer-songwriters in recent memory: Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, Willie Nelson, Jeff Buckley, Neil Diamond and Rufus Wainwright all recorded his songs.

For the uninitiated, Lian Lunson’s documentary is an invitation into a singular, lush and highly disciplined imagination. The biography the 72-year-old Mr. Cohen presents in interviews here is well-known to his dedicated fans, from the sudden and untimely death of his father (it was “mysterious and curiously not devastating,” he says) to his indiscreet boast of an assignation with Janice Joplin (detailed in the song “Chelsea Hotel”), to his Buddhist training and eventual ordination as a Zen monk. But every anecdote benefits from Mr. Cohen’s authoritative voice, conveying both power and wonder, as if every word had been pulled from a high shelf and polished before being offered up for consideration.

While it is fascinating to listen to Mr. Cohen’s reminiscences, the reverence of his musical admirers can be a bit much to take. Fortunately, Miss Lunson borrows her structure from the granddaddy of all music documentaries, Martin Scorsese’s ode to the Band, “The Last Waltz,” cutting between interviews and performances of Mr. Cohen’s songs from a 2005 tribute concert at the Sydney Opera House. Rufus Wainwright sings “Hallelujah,” a Cohen composition with which he has become widely identified. Also on the bill are the McGarrigle Sisters, Martha Wainwright and Australian rocker Nick Cave, among others.

The performances are simply and plainly photographed, and ably but unobtrusively backed by the trumpeter Steven Bernstein and his regular band mates from the superb New York quartet Sex Mob, drummer Kenny Wollesen, bassist Tony Scherr and saxophonist Briggan Krauss.

While Mr. Cohen did not perform at the Sydney concert and has not been touring of late, the movie closes with a rare performance by the man himself. Mr. Cohen stands nearly stock still and sings “Tower of Song” in a husky near-whisper. It is a wonderful and unexpected treat: The setting is the velvet-trimmed stage of New York cabaret the Slipper Room, and the backing band is U2. (Bono and Edge are, avowedly, huge fans: Bono at one point compares Mr. Cohen to Moses.)

Mr. Cohen has endured some unwanted publicity of late over some financial problems, and so it is not inconceivable that a new album in his own voice (other singers have been charged with recording recent compositions) as well as a tour are in the offing. In the meantime, this film is a welcome chance to meet or become reacquainted with one of the towering and iconic songwriting talents of his era.

***

TITLE: “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man”

RATING: PG-13 (Some profanity and some sexually suggestive material)

CREDITS: Directed by Lian Lunson. Cinematography by Geoffrey Hall, Lian Lunson, Brit Marling, John Pirozzi.

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www.leonardcohenimyourman.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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