Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song
By their own accounts, it was a dinner table conversation with British film critic, David Thomson, which, for documentarians Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, set in motion the train of thought which circled around the possibility of making a film about a single song. A short while down the track, the lightbulb moment occurred when Goldfine recalled attending a Leonard Cohen performance at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California. Hallelujah, a song of such technical mastery and spiritual longing, which entered the fabric of popular consciousness via such an epic history bordering on the comically ironic, was almost the inevitable subject to realise this concept.
Eight years later, Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song hits theatres, offering an expansive look into the life and work of Cohen through the lens of his epic, often miscredited, hymn. Having been granted access to a wealth of archival material by the Cohen estate, and hours upon hours of tapes containing conversations between Cohen and legendary music journalist, Larry “Ratso” Sloman, Geller and Goldfine were able to tap into a musical and literary well of historic knowledge, framed in such a way as to equate the enigmatic contradictions of his life with those of his magnum opus.
We are introduced early to a figure who does not quite fit into the shape moulded by his contemporaries. Having never penned a melody until the age of 30, he was an unbearably shy, reticent performer, as Judy Collins testifies. He was also, from the beginning of his musical career, an artist whose lyrical content came from a place of rawness, of deep longing for a reconciliation of the contradictory forces which determine our mercurial motives, a departure from the activist-inflected folk of Bob Dylan, or the deep, unprocessed dive into the underbelly of human desire and social apocalypticism of The Rolling Stones. Global superstardom also found Cohen much later than his contemporaries. These are all elements which are almost narratively conveniently reflected in Hallelujah, the song whose parent album, 1984’s Various Positions, was uniformly rejected by Columbia Records, and only found its rightful place in the collective consciousness in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song is a triumphant account of a career still often overlooked in favour of his contemporaries. It exhibits, not just the artist’s tender contemplation of the deepest recesses of the human condition, but the bitingly dry wit and refreshingly subdued grace of the man, although producer, John Lissauer, as gracious a contributor as any, may have reason to refute the latter sentiment in his quieter moments. The film itself assesses Cohen’s life in much the same way as Cohen sought to assess life itself through the song’s verses: “The world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled. But there are moments when we can reconcile and embrace the whole mess, and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah’.”
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song is released in select cinemas on 16th September 2022.
Watch the trailer for Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song here: