Leonard Cohen may be your man, but “I’m Your Man,” now playing at the Michigan Theater, is not your movie. Intended as a glowing tribute to a brilliant poet/songwriter who is oft overlooked, it’s pulled off about as gracefully as a back-of-the-theater handjob. No one needs Bono spewing coke-fueled hyperbole, and if that’s not bad enough The Edge (The Edge!) gets camera time to compare Leonard Cohen to, get this, early Christianity.
The performances are also a bit insulting; Cohen is an absolute legend and the best they could do is the Wainwright Clan, Nick Cave and Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons)?
Beth Orton does a good job with “Sisters of Mercy,” but the rest of the performances are flat, and it didn’t really seem like Cave even knew all the words to “Suzanne.”
“I’m Your Man” is not completely devoid of value though. Interspersed throughout the performances are clips of Leonard Cohen himself talking on a variety of subjects, from growing up in Montreal to hanging at the Chelsea Hotel with Janis Joplin, to becoming an ordained monk.
Every time Cohen is on the screen the movie is riveting; he dispenses wisdom like the poet he is, and despite the underwhelming renditions presented, his songs still resonate.
Which is why instead of going to see “I’m Your Man” (or just because, damn it) everyone ought to give a deep listen to The Songs of Leonard Cohen. It’s his debut album, it’s the perfect starting point to his daunting catalogue, and it’s absolutely, unequivocally and undeniably a masterpiece. It’s romantic and weary, full of pain and bittersweet reflection. It’s a beacon for every singer-songwriter who considers them self an intellectual artist.
The Songs of Leonard Cohen begins with “Suzanne.” When he sings “And you want to travel with her / And you want to travel blind / And you know that she will trust you / For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind,” the chorus of angels lifts you up only to let you fall slowly back to earth, showing you along the way the inherent beauty in sadness.
By the time you get to the end of the first side, and Cohen has hit you with “Sisters of Mercy,” you realize that for Cohen a song is much more than a tune with words.
He was in his 30s before this record came out, and he was already a respected poet and novelist, a major new literary figure. For God sakes, The Boston Globe compared him to Joyce! The movie poster for “I’m Your Man” has a Cohen quote on it: “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” The Songs of Leonard Cohen (and generally, the songs of Leonard Cohen) are a raging fire. Powerful, poignant, there aren’t enough words in the thesaurus to express his way with words. “I’m Your Man” tries to do it and falls flat on its face. No one needs U2 to tell them how brilliant Leonard Cohen is, they just need to drop the needle and lean a little closer to the speaker.