Leonard Cohen DVD Trio

You can get your Cohen fix with three DVDs that offer a look at the man and his music.



Leonard Cohen is one of the classic songwriters of our time and at age 75 he’s still at it, with a new album promised for release later this year. In the meantime you can get your Cohen fix with three DVDs that offer a look at the man and his music, from his roots as a literary prodigy to his 2008-2009 concert tour.

Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes (Chrome Dreams, NR)

Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes is a straightforward, talking-heads examination of Cohen’s life and work with an emphasis on his literary roots. There are plenty of clips of Cohen and others performing (and not), but the focus of the analysis is more on lyrics than music. This is a worthwhile approach (Cohen has to be one of the more literate songwriters of his generation) but the doc has an off-putting, heavy-handed "educational" vibe to it as if the intended market was high school English classes or PBS viewers, and it takes far too long to make its points. Voice-of-authority narration and interviews with a number of academics doling out well-known information about Federico Garcia Lorca and the Beats sometimes seems far removed from the doc’s ostensible subject, but they do (eventually) tie this background into Cohen’s work. The visual quality is nothing to brag about (the interviews are shot in video, the old footage often shows its age) but is adequate for this film’s ambitions. Judy Collins has some interesting things to say about Cohen and his work and an extended interview with her is included as a DVD extra.

Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road (Sony Legacy, NR)

Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road is an album of selections from Cohen’s concert tour, with the same songs presented on both CD and DVD. Each song is from a separate venue on the tour (the exception being two songs from the 2008 performance at London’s O2 arena) and the selections are a nice mix of the expected hits ("Bird on a Wire" from the Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow, "Chelsea Hotel" from the Royal Albert Hall in London, "Hallelujah" from the Coachella Music Festival in California) and the more obscure ("That Don’t Make It Junk" from the O2 Arena). The sound and on-stage photography are both of high quality and although Cohen looks about 500 years old he’s still effective on stage and has a loyal following; the selections for this DVD/CD seem chosen in order to focus on moments when the barrier between performer and audience is breached, however temporarily. A 21-minute "backstage sketch" by Cohen’s daughter Lorca is full of arty videography and fairly ordinary comments by the band and others involved with the tour but will be of interest to fans at least. Last but not least, the album sports a killer photo by Dominique Isserman (http://www.leonardcohen.com/music.php?album_id=26).

Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire (MVD Entertainment Group, NR)

Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire is the real gem among these three. Directed in 1972 by British documentarian Tony Palmer and long believed lost after a limited release in 1974, Bird on a Wire documents Cohen’s 1972 European tour. It shows Cohen at the height of his popularity and creative powers and this is the film I would first show to young people not familiar with his work. For those of us old enough to remember the 1970s it’s a welcome reminder of how good Cohen was in his prime while also offering a look at some of the exasperations faced by touring musicians, from problems with the sound system (which provokes an audience rebellion at one point) to dealing with an audience who seems determined to anticipate your every move rather than just settling back to see what you’re going to do this time. The DVD comes with 12-page booklet reproducing news clippings and other materials to help put the viewer in a 1972 mood, and a reproduction of the original poster for the film.

Bird on a Wire will be released in the U.S. on August 31 while Lonesome Heroes and Songs from the Road are currently available from the usual online outlets. | Sarah Boslaugh


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