Film Reviews (2006)  
  Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man  

One needn’t appreciate the music of Leonard Cohen to enjoy Liam Lunson’s documentary “Leonorad Cohen: I’m Your Man”. The performers, ranging from Jarvis Cocker and Rufus Wainright to Nick Cave and Beth Orton, deliver impassioned, fully realized renditions of Cohen’s songs that reveal their beautiful, bruised universality. Interviews with Cohen reveal a modest, cagey and deeply spiritual craftsman—and a master of dry wit. The last is an important but overlooked element of his work. What we learn of Cohen—half prophet, half dime-store romantic—is enough to make us better appreciate the humor in his songs. As any good music documentary should, the film adds shades of meaning to Cohen’s writing within a more satisfying portrait of the artist. Cohen comes across as a mix of William Blake and Dean Martin, as unlikely and pleasing a combination as one could ask for.

For the most part Lunson gets out of the way to let the songs speak for themselves, as Cohen would surely want, but strangely the carnival boat is tilted heavily toward the elephant in the prow, U2. Every clip of an admiring artist talking of how Cohen influenced him or her is followed by another one featuring the articulate but larger-than-life Bono and The Edge. The Irish rockers are almost nakedly sycophantic; let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and call them over-eager teacher’s pets. When the film finally shows us Cohen singing one of his own tracks, “Tower of Song”, he’s backed by U2 and lip-synchs the song, which seems sacriligious in light of the outstanding live vocals at the Cohen tribute at the Sydney Opera House.

Worse, the scene takes place in a nightclub in New York, glitzy and tarted-up to resemble the aesthetic of U2’s “Achtung Baby” era. Bizarrely, among Cohen’s admirers pride of place has been given to U2. The integrity of the whole film feels smudged because of it. After listening to the gutsy, spine-tingling talent of the Wainrights, Cave, Orton, and the rest, Lunson’s use of a canned U2 music video to end the movie blunts the pleasure of “I’m Your Man”. The genteel sanity of a man who casually quips “New York is the second best city in the world [behind Montreal]” seems lost in Lunson’s kow-towing to The Biggest Band In The World. A final concession to the marketplace, perhaps, and a depressing reminder of the larger commercial imbalances which have unfortunately left Leonard Cohen with a smaller public profile than his supreme talent warrants.