Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man Blu-ray Review: An Awkward Documentary Hybrid

From the department of celebrity death cash-ins: An unnecessary Blu-ray upgrade of a forgettable concert film/biography mash-up.
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We’d already hit capacity overload on the “Fuck 2016” meme by the time Leonard Cohen’s death was announced on Nov. 10, but that didn’t mean the gut-punch of his passing hurt any less.

Less than a month before, Cohen had solemnly announced, “I am ready to die” in David Remnick’s exhaustive New Yorker profile, before abruptly reversing course a few days after the interview’s publication at a listening session for his final album, You Want It Darker.

“I said I was ready to die recently, and I think I was exaggerating. I’ve always been into self-dramatization. I intend to live forever.”

The darkness of the first statement and the self-effacing humor of the second are like a Cohen song played out in slow motion. He stares deep into the inevitability of his own mortality, and then he laughs.

Like the death of any beloved artist, Cohen’s has come accompanied by some cash-in moments, and the unwarranted Blu-ray upgrade of Lian Lunson’s 2005 documentary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man is a fairly innocuous example.

Lunson’s well-meaning but awkwardly constructed film meshes footage from a January 2005 Cohen tribute show at the Sydney Opera House with a loose Cohen biography. Artists involved with the tribute gush about Cohen’s influence, while the man himself obliquely discusses his life and philosophy.

Lunson doesn’t seem to know what to do with the various concert segments, cutting some to bits while allowing others to play out in full. Often, she’ll insert a quick shot of Cohen making an observation about one of the artists in the middle of their song. Interviews are framed in almost an extreme close-up, while the camera operators during the concert sequences struggle to even maintain consistent focus.

It’s all very slapdash, and that’s without mentioning the unbelievably corny effect of constantly overlaying the image with shimmers from a glittery red curtain — a bit of foreshadowing of the film’s finale, a separately shot rendition of Cohen performing “Tower of Song” with U2.

Based on the material presented here, the tribute concert, which featured Nick Cave, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, ANOHNI (then Antony) and more, was a mixed bag. (The highlights: Cave’s understated swagger in “I’m Your Man” and Antony’s incredibly moving “If It Be Your Will.”)

Still, just a basic capturing of that event in its entirety would almost certainly have been preferable to this hybrid. Cohen is a wonderful interview subject, but there’s more insight to be gleaned from a couple grafs of Remnick’s profile than anything here.

Lionsgate’s 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer offers the film a modest high-def quality bump, but there’s not much you can do with the mid-2000s digital video here, which is smeary and artifacted. Cohen’s interview segments are especially affected by macroblocking and loss of detail. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is similarly underwhelming, presenting the audio clearly but without much oomph.

Extras are all ported over from the DVD release, and include a commentary track from Lunson, a couple minutes of outtake footage from the Cohen interview and four additional performances from the tribute concert. A digital HD download code is also included.

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