Whether one loves his voice, or just can’t stand it, most people can agree that singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen had a unique vocal style. Another thing about Cohen and career on which most people agree is that his song “Hallelujah” is absolutely haunting and beautiful, regardless of the singer who actually performs it. Now playing in theaters is a music documentary that not only tells Cohen’s story and how his talents eventually lead him to become a world renown and acclaimed artist. The film offers a mostly personal glimpse into Cohen’s life and career, but also details how hard worked on his most famous song, and how it would eventually become one of the world’s most covered and overplayed tunes.
Born in Canada in 1934, Leonard Norman Cohen would not begin a musical career until 1967. Prior to that, Leonard had mostly focused on writing poetry, but it hadn’t really occurred to him that he should set his work to music and perform them. Though mostly well admired among other singers, musicians and other artists, Cohen would only achieve some moderate success, and was more of a niche artist. In 1984, Cohen records his album, “Various Positions,” and one of the tracks would happen to be the song “Hallelujah.”
What most people don’t know is that this particular track was a number that Cohen struggled with for many years and was ofter writing other versions of it. The snowball really began rolling when former Velvet Underground artist John Cale decides to record a cover version of the song for a tribute album to Cohen. It is this particular version that reach more audiences, including singers Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley. The song in its various versions would eventually take the world by storm and appear in movies, television shows, and would be covered by even more performers hoping to come close to duplicating that magic that Cohen created through his words.
Written and directed by Daniel Gellar and Dayna Goldfine, Hallelujah, the documentary, is a fascinating, but mostly standard musical artist documentary. Now, I don’t necessarily say this a negative, as the filmmakers find a great angle to tell Cohen’s story and show great competence in their execution. I loved watching the archival footage of Cohen in his earlier days and discovering music of his that I had never previously heard. Devoted fans of the artists will probably still enjoy this aspect of the documentary, but I am sure it is a retread on some all too familiar territory.
One thing that grew tedious for me was hearing the song “Hallelujah” played so much. The documentary does discuss the issue that so many people love and admire the song, but it really doesn’t need to run into the ground any further. The point could have been made without so much repetition. Still, I highly recommend this lovable and intriguing documentary about a very talented and unique artist that earned so many fans with his incredible writing and his one-of-a-kind voice.