Documentary about Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah the Broken

“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen is a great song. It’s not my favorite song, I’m like most audiophiles: it’s hard to name one favorite. I can answer another special question more easily: Leonard Cohen’s 2010 Hannover party was the most beautiful party I’ve ever been to. It was part of his comeback concerts in 2008, for which there was a profane reason: He needed money. Cohen’s manager cheated him out of his fortune while he was meditating in a monastery. The concert in Hanover was not sold out; Word of the lavish soirées Cohen prepared for his viewers wasn’t widespread in Germany in 2010. For three hours, the 76-year-old knelt, danced, joked, repeatedly took off his hat, pressed it to his chest, and bowed deeply before his troupe and audience. “Quietly, wisely and with dignity,” a local newspaper wrote afterwards. Yes, a wise old man was standing on this platform covered in Persian carpets, which the only teenager in the audience suspected.

Cohen’s sonorous vocals are heartwarming, but a far cry from the penetrating pathos with which talent show participants and wedding singers saddle up his incessantly covered “Hallelujah.” French photographer Dominique Isermann—who, according to Cohen, is said to be the first woman he truly fell in love with—says of him: “He’s very strong, but he doesn’t show that intensity.”

Eiserman says this sentence in the documentary “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, Journey, Song” by Dan Geller and Dina Goldfein, which is currently in cinemas. The film opens with a look at Cohen’s late stage: at one of those comeback concerts he sings “Hallelujah,” which is probably his most famous song, then the directors jump back in time and tell the song’s biography, which is also the common thread. In it, the directors shed light on Cohen’s biography. To do this, they managed to draw on a lot of video material, which they apparently painstakingly compressed (successfully), and also talked to several comrades, and shortly before his death in 2016, to Cohen himself.

The Jewish tradition played an important role in his songs

Born in Canada in 1934, Leonard Cohen’s maternal grandfather was a rabbi and Talmud commentator, and his paternal grandfather was the founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress – and the Jewish tradition plays an important role in his songs. Came to the music late. In the 1960s he settled in Hydra, Greece with the Norwegian Marianne Eilen (“So long, Marianne”), and wrote two novels and several volumes of poetry. When Cohen began turning his poetry to music, he was in his thirties. His life began “on the fringes of the music industry,” as he himself says in the film. He is a solitaire, with melancholy and mysterious songs in which he blurs the line between the sacred and the profane. How did Cohen, who had suffered from depression his whole life, finally find this calm in his old age? At one point in the film, he says that there are two ways to confront the absurdity of this world: Either you pray or you raise your fist – he tries to do both.

“Hallelujah” is, of course, an expression of his search for meaning, his religious longing, which he weaves over and over again with erotic love in his songs. He worked on the song for seven years, writing between 100 and 200 tracks. Among these are some references to the Old Testament. If you want to find a catch-all term for the obscure lyrics, perhaps you could say they are passages on atheism in faith, which Cohen calls “broken hallelujah.” In later stanzas, he addresses a love that has melted away, evokes the former happiness of erotic love and sings of the impossibility of romantic love. It is no coincidence that Cohen was once called a vocalist in the film, that is, someone who sings about elusive love. The fact that the song is played at funerals and weddings today could have something to do with the fact that it breaks and heals your heart at the same time, so it’s also a romantic song.

When Cohen wanted to release the song in 1984, his record company refused to release the companion album, Various Positions (which also includes the popular “Dance Me to the End of Love”). Said the CEO is not good enough. The album was released in Europe and later in the United States on a small label.

Cohen said it was best to stop singing the song for a while

Bob Dylan was the first to bring “Hallelujah” to a wider audience with a cover version. It was made famous by John Cale’s cover version, which is more emotionally accessible—more crowd-friendly—than Cohen’s original. Jeff Buckley’s fantastic version, which is now known to more people than Cohen’s version, became popular in the mid-1990s. Buckley once said he hoped Cohen would never hear his version because he feels like a boy who sings. Buckley’s version is actually that of a broken-hearted young man, and he sang it in an angelic voice accompanied by his memorable guitar playing, making Cohen’s “Hallelujah” a soulful youthful anthem.

After hearing John Cale’s version in the 2001 animated film Shrek, Hallelujah became commercial (not meant to be rated). Countless cover versions followed; If you walk the streets of big cities, you can hear street musicians singing “Hallelujah”. Young people at talent shows sing “Hallelujah,” which has led to 13-year-olds singing heartily about “All I Learned From Love” at talent shows. It often acts as a smooth tablet like a smartphone. But perhaps one shouldn’t judge it too harshly, even if all these bombastic versions, which don’t seem to trust the inner intensity of the song, but have to “spic up” it with a calculated emotional outburst like the cast’s show, are hard to bear. . Leonard Cohen said with a smile that he was flattered by the unexpected noise, but people had better stop singing the song for a while. But one gets the impression that he also meekly looks at such versions as part of the “different positions”.

Returning to Cohen’s concerts at the end of his life: Cohen made fruitful use of his own life given by John Cale and Jeff Buckley his song – he evidently adopted aspects of the transcriptions in which religious and earthly verses are still closely related. Buckley’s Big Teen version should not be ranked against Cohen’s version. But one might say: Cohen’s live-action versions don’t have the accessible pathos, they’re more playful, they have more breaks, a holy earnestness and a cheery wit. You probably have to get old and wiser to get there. There is a famous and often quoted verse by Cohen: “There is a crack in everything, that is how light enters.” So Cohen’s broken “Hallelujah” is absolutely fantastic.

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