“Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song” as a documentary is, in short, a bit too much of a good thing. Toward the film’s end, Cohen suggests with a smile that maybe it’s time people stop singing the song for a while. Then the journey starts…
I know the song. I love this song, but I was unaware of how many versions there are. It was shocking to me to learn that “Hallelujah” was so beloved and that Cohen’s version isn’t necessarily the one that is the most well-known. Speaking of, kd lang takes a crack at it at a memorial tribute concert to Leonard Cohen. She was absolutely breathtaking singing this song! I can easily say her version, after Cohen’s, is my favorite; what’s yours? Do you prefer to hear it from John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, Brandi Carlile or Bob Dylan?
I digress. Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine, who directed and produced this documentary, pull from Cohen’s beginnings the reason he wanted to be an artist and the journey he took to become one. He ended up being one of the most prolific and innovative singer-songwriters of his generation and beyond.
We see handwritten lyrics taken from stacks of notebooks that Cohen used when composing struck him. It wasn’t until the age of thirty-two that Cohen left Canada and went to New York City. In April of 1967, he met Judy Collins. She immediately noticed his genius and encouraged it, helping him at his most vulnerable moments.
It’s important to note that we learn a lot about when, in 1984, he and some other talented individuals got together to create the album “Various Positions.” Producer John Lissauer was very proud of it. He questioned some of Cohen’s songs but said he never asked about them. He told us that an artist shouldn’t have to explain his art. It’s defined by the art itself, as it speaks to the enthusiast’s heart. Who are we to question it?
The musicians were most happy with three excellent tunes on the record and couldn’t wait for Columbia Records to hear the tracks. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the response they were hoping for. Then-president of Columbia Records, Walter Yetnikoff, who worked there from 1975 to 1990, said he wouldn’t release the album in America. Everyone was puzzled as to why Walter disliked it so much and wanted a reason why this was happening. Even well-known producer Clive Davis never understood this decision.
Walter told Cohen, “We know you’re great but don’t know if you’re any good.” Leonard tried to get them to mix it how they’d like, which is not easy for an artist to give permission for. Columbia still wouldn’t budge.
‘Hallelujah,’ as a song, finally got attention when Bob Dylan. Knowing that people generally aren’t aware of great songs if they’re not on the radio, he began to sing it in his concerts. Dylan loved the song and knew that his audience would, too. He felt it would be a travesty for this beautiful piece of music to be left behind. He and singer Jeff Buckley made sure that it wasn’t. So has shows like ‘American Idol’ and ‘The X Factor’ and even films such as ‘Shrek.’ The story of how it got on the soundtrack is quite delightful. That it did tells you that this song will never die.
This is a good documentary for fans of music, but it’s a bit too long and a lot to ask of the audience to hear the song over and over again, unique versions or not. If you like the ‘Hallelujah,’ prepare to listen to a lot of it. Over the span of two hours, you hear it for what seems like a hundred times.
I liked the documentary but would have liked it more had it been made into a limited series. That way, the filmmakers wouldn’t have had to cram so much into just one film. I feel a lot was left on the table about not only Cohen but everyone interviewed for the film, such as French fashion photographer Dominique Issermann who he met in 1982. I wanted to know more about her. This was a missed opportunity. Instead of focusing mainly on one song by a legend, it could have zeroed in on so much that it simply skimmed over.
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A SongTile of the Film
Rating: PG-13 (Brief Strong Language|Some Sexual Material)
Runtime: 1h 55m
Genre: Documentary, Biography, Music
Directed and Produced by: Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics