Already-devoted fans will doubtlessly constitute the major audience for Lian Lunson’s combination tribute to, and biographical sketch of, Leonard Cohen, the Montreal-born poet and singer-songwriter who remains a cult figure to many although his own spiritual searches led him to abandon the business. But the uninitiated who encounter “Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man” will find it pretty captivating, too–though also uneven and structurally problematical.
The tribute part of the documentary basically comes in the form of numbers from a Sydney concert of Cohen’s songs performed by a roster of artists dominated by Rufus Wainwright but also including Nick Cave, Antony, Jarvis Cocker and Kate and Anna McGarrigle; but it also includes excerpts of interviews with those performers, and others like Bono. Interspersed with these musical highlights, which though variable maintain a generally high standard, and third-party interviews is the biographical element–fairly lengthy, nicely illustrated and quite revealing reminiscences from Cohen himself, an exceptionally articulate and self-deprecating fellow. The picture ends with Cohen, a grand old man, taking to the stage of a small club backed by U2 to lend his growling baritone to “Tower of Song,” an apt signature piece.
There’s nothing terribly innovative about Lunson’s film, but the quality of some of the performances–especially Wainwright’s, whom Cohen himself singles out for praise on a couple of occasions, Antony’s near-possessed turn, and Cohen’s big finish–as well as the songwriter’s willingness to open up about his life, make it worth seeing. Technically “I’m Your Man” is fairly rudimentary and the editing (by Mike Cahill) isn’t ideally crisp. But these are minor flaws to what’s a winning introduction to a fascinating man and his compelling music.