Film Reviews

LEONARD COHEN LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970

By • Jan 29th, 2010 •

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According to those present, and to the omniscient narrator/editor, the 3rd Isle of Wight concert degenerated into chaos. Violence, disruptions, fires. Then Leonard Cohen was awakened at 4:00 in the morning, took the stage, and all the anxiety and rage was drained from the six hundred thousand onlookers. It was…a spiritual experience, though it is never referred to in those terms during this hour+ long documentary, assembled forty years later and presented for limited theatrical screenings prior to DVD release.

But I don’t doubt it. Despite the darkness, the limitations of the sound system at that venue, the relative size he must have been from the points of view of the farthest audience members…despite all that, Cohen’s pre-sepulchral voice, his hypnotic melodies, and his surreal lyrics, full of melancholy and wisdom, might well have soothed the savage breast in all those in attendance that sixth night.

Director Lerner was one of the camera-people at the event, and the coverage is more random then, say, the Maysles’ coverage was in GIMME SHELTER. Less intuitive. And so the early minutes are the roughest going, as Lerner tries to set the stage for Cohen’s miraculous appearance. But soon the documentary levels out, and leaves the film to the performer, and those early numbers do their trick. It’s a glorious record of his mesmerizing presence. He sings “Diamonds in the Mine”, “Bird on the Wire”, “Hey, That’s no Way to Say Goodbye”, “Sing Another Song, Boys”, “Suzanne”, “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy” and others. And if you want more, on the DVD release there will be more – other songs cut from the documentary, but still there for your listening pleasure on an accompanying CD.

I caught Cohen a few times live. And there have been several films of his work I’ve seen that chronicle him throughout his life. It was never enough. Here’s one more vital memory, preserved for posterity, of his genius.

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