Leonard Cohen’s poetic voice – rough yet smooth, rich as whiskey and forged in the pitfalls of life – accompanies the film in a way that makes us rethink sex, depression, death, and the truth about women. Who really was this multitalented Canadian named Cohen, whom Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Robert Altman were so enthusiastic about as far back as the 70s?
The music documentary Hallelujah brings it all together in a style reminiscent of poetry: amazing photographs, copious anecdotes from colleagues, recordings, interviews, and travel footage. Although it focuses on the song Hallelujah, the film also delves into Cohen’s personal life, the meanings of Judaism and a Zen Buddhist fast in the mountains of California.
The core question is how the iconic song Hallelujah – of which many different interpretations are heard – came into being and what has been done to it since then. What kinds of transformation has the song suffered when it has been put through the mangle of popular entertainment, from the ‘cleaned-up’ version in Shrek and the love-making scene in Watchmen through to the most deplorable interpretations on Idol TV shows and the sentimental renditions of street musicians?
Although Hallelujah doesn’t exactly tear up the music documentary format, the stories in the film alone make it a veritable treasure trove for lovers of good music who rate Cohen. Bob Dylan plays a part, as does Jeff Buckley, who died so young.