“Hallelujah.” The word alone lifts spirits to high heavens. Leonard Cohen, the poet/songster, raised the word song to a classic, albeit one in danger of becoming a cliché. Cohen, as portrayed in this song- and soul-loving documentary, has “always been a spiritual seeker.”
The word speaks to Cohen’s relationship to God: “it’s one part Biblical and one part the woman he slept with last night.”
Cohen put his imprimateur on the documentary just before his 80th birthday. The film includes archival material never before seen — from notebooks, photographs, performances, and interviews. The film begins in December 2013 at his final concert with his bass voice vibrating, his body virile in genuflection. The directors, partners Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine, plaited three strands of the story: Cohen journeying through the Sixties to his final concert in 2013. “Hallelujah” from rejection to chart-buster. Testaments to the man and his music by the artists who carry Cohen’s touchstone.
Judy Collins, who sang his “Suzanne,” remembers 50 years later that she had told him, “You cannot hide in shadows. You have to sing.” In 1967, “Songs of Love and Hate” debuted.
John Lesserauer, producer of the original “Hallelujah,” describes the song’s 6/8 time as having a gospel feeling. “Leonard,” he said, “pulled the word out of the sky and brought it to earth.” Lesserauer counts the verses Cohen wrote at 180.
“Unlocking the mysteries of life was his primary occupation,” says Sharon Robinson, who, with Jennifer Warnes, sang beside him. Robinson added, “He saw women as part of the path to enlightenment.”
Their words manifest the influence Cohen has on his acolytes — Jeff Buckley and John Cale, Bono and Brandi Carlile, Rufus Wainwright and K.D. Lang. The “naughty bits” were excised for Shrek, producing the version that has become standard.
To prove a point of ubiquity, Geller and Goldfine created collages of “Hallelujah” sung at weddings and funerals and at President Biden’s Covid memorial service. Always, there is Cohen himself. And this is what he said: “You look around and you see a world impenetrable that you cannot make sense of. You either raise your fists or you say ‘Hallelujah.’ I try to do both.”