Leonard Cohen: Under Review 1934-1977
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A career retrospective of the Canadian songwriter that covers the first half of his career. Various talking heads with tenuous connections to Cohen discuss his life and work. Contains very little in the way of Leonard Cohen's music on the soundtrack and no live performances.
Leonard Cohen: Under Review 1935-1977 is typical of the other volumes in the Under Review series: detailed, thorough, almost scholarly in their approach, these well-made and often fascinating volumes may not interest the casual fan, but will prove rewarding for those looking for a deeper investigation into the work of some complex, left-of-center artists. Cohen certainly fits that description. Born in Montreal in 1934, he published his first book of poetry, as well as a couple of novels (the second of which, Beautiful Losers, was quite controversial), well before he made his first record; thus when he turned to music, he was regarded less as a songwriter per se than as a poet who set his words to music (Bob Dylan, to whom Cohen was often compared, fell into the former category). Some interesting aural and/or visual recordings of Cohen reading his early work are included here, but the emphasis is on the five studio records he made for the Columbia label between '67 and '77, beginning with Songs of Leonard Cohen (featuring "Suzanne," still probably his best known song) and ending with Death of a Ladies' Man (produced and co-written by the ever-volatile control freak Phil Spector and later disowned by Cohen). An array of talking heads--musicians, producers, and a number of prominent rock critics among them--discuss Cohen, his melodies and lyrics (others include "Bird on a Wire" and "Famous Blue Raincoat"), and his inimitable voice (or "non-voice," as one pundit describes it), bolstered by photos, music excerpts, and occasional concert footage. Cohen himself was not interviewed for the project; then again, this is a critical review more than a biography or documentary. Bonus material consists of a brief featurette about Cohen's backing band, a trivia quiz, and information about the DVD's various contributors. --Sam Graham
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There is not a lot of new information on this DVD for those of us who are besotted with the man Leonard Cohen. I must be the only fan alive who didn't know who the woman in the Chelsea Hotel was; so now I know, not that it matters. By far the best part of this production is the actual footage of Cohen when he is interviewed ("everyone lives the life of the heart") and/or the snatches of his or Judy Collins' singing. We can all be thankful that she introduced Cohen's work to the U. S. when she recorded what was to become his most popular song "Suzanne" on her fantastic album "In My Life."
This DVD would have been much better if we had seen more of Cohen and less of the reviewers. (The film is almost 90 minutes long.) I'm reminded once again that Archibald MacLeish said that a poem (all the reviewers are in agreement what Cohen did not write songs but rather poems set to music) should not mean but be. Sometimes less is more; the less said of Cohen's fine poetry, the better. Watching this sometimes tedious film, did, however, make me want to listen to more of this great artist's music, certainly a good thing.
The DVD copy I had received was not a good copy. The first 5 minutes does not play properly. My wife has wondered about returning it, but I am reluctant to have to pay any shipping charges to do that, and wonder whether it would be productive. Would a replacement DVD have the same problem?