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Thursday, January 25, 2007

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You're my man.

Please find me
I am almost 30.

—Leonard Cohen

Years ago, when Leonard Cohen's masterpiece I'm Your Man was released, a girlfriend and I sat on the floor swooning over the lyrics of the title song
And if you've got to sleep
A moment on the road
I will steer for you
And if you want to work the street alone
I'll disappear for you
If you want a father for your child
Or only want to walk with me a while
Across the sand
I'm your man.

"Why can't all men be like that?", my friend said, sighing.

My Dad, who was also a poet in Montreal in the sixties, cut in. "Girls," he said. "All men are like that.

Yeah, okay, maybe. But they sure don't all express it like that.

The film Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man, arrived in my mailbox last week. It's been in my Netflix queue a long time and I was looking forward to an evening of swooning and sighing. I did both, but also a lot of seething. You can't make a bad film out of Leonard Cohen songs and interviews. The raw material is too good. But it is apparently quite possible to make a bad film around the songs and thoughts of Leonard Cohen. I don't know enough about filmmaking to know how much of the blame rests with director Lian Lunson. I don't know how much is a factor of budget. I do know there were elements that reminded me of —how can I put this without feeling disloyal— National Film Board productions I grew up on. No disrespect to the NFB. But it's 25 years later, and we've come to expect more sophistication in a doc.

I don't even know if Lunson is a compatriot, but the whole film had the air of earnestness and self-consciousness that I have come to associate with Canadian film and tv. It tries to be sexy, but it takes the effort so damn seriously it comes off as contrived. It's like watching someone who's never smoked, trying to look cool with a cigarette. For example, there are flashes of bodyparts of a Vegas showgirl inexplicably strewn throughout the film. And then at the end, in a final non-sequitur, she comes out arm in arm with Cohen and U2. I can just see someone saying, you know, people might not get that the Cohen poems and lyrics and art are sexy. We better put a half-naked girl with feathers in. Because THAT says sexy.

The director's affectations were minor, however, compared to most of the performers in the concert segments. Starting with my beloved Rufus Wainwright, who did "Everybody Knows" in the style of Liza Minnelli and was obviously reading the lyrics off a music stand. He more than redeemed himself with his subsequent contributions, but others were painful to watch. Their affectations? It was like watching actors read poems. Which is my personal definition of hell. What did they think one could possibly add to a Leonard Cohen song with all that emoting? Your voices are enchanting, but it's supposed to be about the songwriter, not your signature angst or eccentricity. Antony Hegarty. Beth Orton. Martha. Yeah, I'm looking at you. Tribute is properly used in third person.

And for the love of Armani, it's Leonard Cohen, kids. Let's show some respect. Like, maybe learning your part and not singing off the sheet. Like maybe trading the thrift shop duds for something approaching the elegance and class of the man himself, that says I am honored enough to be here to have brushed my hair and ironed something just for the occasion. Nick Cave wore a suit and won my undying love. And Teddy Thompson put a dinner jacket over his t-shirt, stood up straight and just played his guitar and sang the song. It was riveting, a standout moment among performances that may as well have been done from inside burlap sacks. It reminded me of that old story that goes around acting circles about the method actor asking Sir Laurence Olivier his trade secret. "It's called acting, dear boy," was the response. In other words, get over yourself.

Leonard, I'm so sorry. After all these years, you deserve better than rags and feathers. Put me on the door list next time, I'll come wearing white gloves and hyacinths. But don't wait too long. I am almost 40.



Anonymous lilalia said...

Oh no! How horrible. I was looking forward to ordering the film. The trailer made the film look interesting. What to do? Guess I will wait until the artsy DVD rental store buys it and just rent it for a night. I was hoping it was going to be one of those jewels.h

4:02 PM  
Blogger Heidi Renee said...

ha! national film board - love it!

5:58 PM  
Blogger katie said...

I don't know Kyran - if you cavort with girls named Bambi, perhaps feathers are the right thing!

7:25 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

maybe she WAS bambi...she looked like one. :)

I went back and changed my phrasing a little around the NFB comparison, Heidi....I didn't want come across as dissing the Board. My mom worked for them as a librarian for a couple of years and I spent many enchanted afternoons watching my way through the catalogue!

7:49 PM  
Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

love it........what a plaintiff wail "marita, please find me, i am almost 30" it has a different ring to it at 64.but "those were the days,my friend, i thought they'd never end. those were the days"

9:14 PM  
Blogger katie said...

P.S. I'm a Leonard fan too. But sometimes maybe it's just better to know the writer through their work alone??

9:20 PM  

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