Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen
Dir: Donald Brittain & Don Owen – 1965
“He studies to describe/the lover he cannot become/Failing the widest dreams of the mind/And settling for visions of God…”
– Leonard Cohen
I was seven years old. Across the hall, I heard a melancholic crooning about a woman named Suzanne. My father was humming, atonally, to the bitter chorus, as he looked through a magnifying glass. I asked what he was doing from the archway behind him. He didn’t answer. The music had him in a trance, as he painted a small lead figurine diligently. It was the first time that I realized music could paralyze someone and put them in that place that they wanted to be; high grass, old lovers, irreplaceable coincidences.
That voice–Leonard Cohen’s voice–has nostalgically haunted me ever since that day in the living room. Leonard Cohen is a hand-me-down in the McGraw family. Hugh passed it to Mike–and from Mike to me, like a faded shirt, or a dog-eared coming of age novel. When I hear Mr. Cohen’s songs, or read his poetry, I am transported to a place that I never recognize. Jamais vu, if you will. My grandfather is there in a corduroy suit in front of a microphone, miming the lines that I hear emanating from the warm and fuzzy vinyl grooves, while my father and I sit, watching the silent movie that Cohen is directing.
In 1964, the apparent national treasure, Leonard Cohen was optioned his part in an auto-biographical documentary by the National Film Board of Canada. The then-predominant writer was running face time for the cameras while on a reading tour of his poetry and prose. Throughout the film, he is shown meandering through Montreal; reading poetry in dark places, engaging in nightlife, and, later, writing at a desk in his hotel room. Some say that his self-conscious manner presented in the footage is due to him being uncomfortable with cameras, or having rumored disputes with the small production crew over staging things versus candid. This look into such a crucial time in an artist’s life is a visage not often seen. Fore by 1967, dissatisfied by his writer’s financial plight, the bard swept into the music industry and became one of the most influential singer/songwriters of our time.
Ladies and Gentlemen…Mr. Leonard Cohen is a touching and stylish peek at the moments between being human and being famous; the lulls one feels before going on stage, questioning who’s looking back at them in the mirror, stamping out a cigarette before exiting the venue to a flurry of faces–all longing. 30 years old and residing in Greece, at the time of its filming, Cohen claimed that he was returning home, “to renew his neurotic affiliations.” I can only assume that he was homesick and needed familiar air to breathe. Or, perhaps, it was getting paid to do a nationally broadcasted segment for his home country that brought him back. Whatever the case, Ladies and Gentlemen… is an encouraging flick and a definite must for all Leonard Cohen fans, standing out as a rare glimpse, and an entertaining memory of someone so beloved.