Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song


Biography / Documentary / Music

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 89%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 94%
IMDb Rating 7.5 10 278

Plot summary

October 12, 2022 at 05:01 PM


Daniel Geller

Top cast

Glen Hansard as Self
Brandi Carlile as Self
1.06 GB
English 2.0
23.976 fps
1 hr 57 min
P/S ...

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by rannynm 10 / 10

Captivating and Inspiring Documentary Showing The Origins And Evolution Of Leonard Cohen's Iconic Song "Hallelujah"

This captivating documentary shows the origins and evolution of the iconic song "Hallelujah," written by poet, author, singer/songwriter and musician Leonard Cohen. A song that transcends generations, "Hallelujah" is more than music; it is a work of art and this film is an immersive exploration of this iconic song.

The documentary narrates how Cohen started his music career back in the '60's. Disappointed by his lack of success in the literary world, Cohen decided to explore a career in music, despite not intending to sing or play an instrument. In fact, Cohen didn't start writing songs until age 30. The narration in the film explores his early success in music and other aspects of his life, including his Jewish roots, politics, relationships and more. He was a spiritual seeker and his oeuvre constantly gravitated around spirituality. "Hallelujah," his most renowned song, was released in 1984. The song is a moment of realization-a revelation-about love and loss, and it touches the listener in so many different ways. The song is so larger-than-life it's almost its own person, and we see how it has become an anthem.

As of today, there are over 300 cover versions of "Hallelujah." Originally 150-180 verses were written for "Hallelujah" until the perfect edition of the song was written. More popular versions have come from artists Eric Church, Jeff Buckley and John Cale. Through many different interviews, the documentary shows how most people know the song through Jeff Buckley and many thought he wrote it. It was really interesting to me to see how a lot of the film is devoted to Leonard's spirituality. One of my favorite clips was the 2009 Coachella concert where Cohen sang "Hallelujah," and you could really feel how moved and captivated the audience was. The visuals, the archived interviews and footage are all nicely arranged. I particularly enjoyed listening to the interviews with various artists, reporters and people that were close to Cohen and to witness the warmth that emanated from him. One I found very interesting was with Vicky Jenson, where she talks about how "Hallelujah" was used in the movie Shrek. Another was how singer Judy Collins remembers when she first met him how he didn't believe in his own music. Cohen's work was not always praised as some music labels rejected his albums, but his talent has proved to be immortal.

The message of the film is that music is cross-generational, and it establishes an emotional connection that unites people in a powerful way.

I give Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for audiences 12 to 18, plus adults. Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song opens in select theaters July 15, 2022.

Reviewed by boblipton 7 / 10

Too Jewish?

For those of you who are unaware, Leonard Cohen was a Jewish Canadian mystic poet. His concern was the apparent conflict between the sacred and the profane. One day he realized what he was writing might actually be songs, and so began a concert and recording career. The song in the title "Hallelujah" was a track on an album which his company refused to release -- in my opinion, Cohen's mixture of the sacred and the earthy in this song likely offended the equally Jewish head of the company so much it was not released in the US. Nonetheless, the song caught on over the decades.

As a Jew, I find nothing surprising in this. As Cohen notes in one of the later interviews included herein, Judaism makes you want to raise your fist and to shout hallelujah. To Christians, who believe in a benevolent G*d, this seems to be confusing; however Jews recognize that the world is G*d's creation just as much as the Torah. Which is why there are more than a hundred verses in Cohen's notebooks, with subjects ranging from angels to bondage.

Cohen wrote some other excellent songs, too.

Reviewed by ferguson-6 8 / 10

Your faith was strong but you needed proof

Greetings again from the darkness. He's not an easy man to figure out. His many written and spoken words can be challenging to interpret, and his art comes in many forms: poems, novels, drawings, and songs. Leonard Cohen was an enigma, yet also a treasure trove of thought-provoking work crafted over fifty years. Collaborators for more than 25 years, documentarians Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine knew tackling Cohen as a subject would be too much, so by taking inspiration from Alan Light's book, "The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of 'Hallelujah'", they were able to approach him through his most recognizable and most oft-covered song, "Hallelujah." The result is a captivating two hours that will appeal to Leonard Cohen devotees and enlighten those new to his work.

We open on December 21, 2013 in Auckland, New Zealand. Leonard Cohen is on stage and sings the immediately recognizable first "secret chord" line of "Hallelujah." This would be his final live performance. Someone offers the description of LC as "a spiritual seeker", and that appears to have been the case most of his life. Perhaps there is no better evidence of this than his pursuit of writing lyrics to "Hallelujah." We see the dozens of notebooks filled with his handwritten lyrics. We know there are multiple versions of the song, and Leonard admits the song was never finished ... it was ever-evolving, same as the writer. Although Cohen passed away in 2016 and was not interviewed for this film, precious archival footage allows us to see him expressing his own thoughts alongside new and recorded interviews of those who knew him for so long.

The great Judy Collins tells of the time she encouraged Leonard to come on stage and sing his song "Suzanne" with her. It was 1966 and though to that point, he had been mostly a poet, he now immersed himself and his words into songwriting. In regards to his poetry, so many believe one must suffer to have anything of value to say; however, Leonard was born into a wealthy family, and he created reems of meaningful passages as a deep thinker and observer. Other terrific interviews come courtesy of music journalist "Ratso" Sloman (who also shared tapes of his own Leonard interviews with the filmmakers), long time back-up singer and co-writer Sharon Robinson, Cohen's former girlfriend and renowned photographer Dominique Isserman, lifelong friend and fellow Canadian Nancy Bacal, Canadian journalist and lifelong friend Adrienne Clarkson, and John Lissauer who first produced "Hallelujah" and also composed the score to this documentary.

The song itself took a journey worth exploring. Leonard initially worked on the lyrics for years. Once the song was recorded, it (and the entire album, 'Various Positions') was rejected by Columbia, the record label that had already paid for it. The album and song were finally released on a small independent label. Ultimately, Bob Dylan began performing the song in concert, and it was gradually adopted by other artists, and reached mainstream status when it was included in the animated hit movie, SHREK. How is that for an unusual journey for a song?

Even the SHREK saga wasn't straightforward. Rather than use Cohen's version of the song, the director chose the version sung by Rufus Wainwright, but then decided it didn't fit, and shifted to the John Cale version. As a final twist, it's Wainwright's version on the released movie soundtrack. It's not just the lyrics that have multiple versions. As of last count, more than 200 artists have their own version, with those of John Cale and Jeff Buckley being the most frequently listened to. Both get their due in this documentary, and it's quite moving to compare the different approaches ... one's mood must be the determining factor on which fits the moment, as it's impossible to say one is "better" than the other. We also hear from other artists who testify to the song's personal importance to them. And to reinforce the point of how the song has become part of the fabric of society, there is a montage of TV contestants singing their version in hopes of moving on to the next stage.

Although the filmmakers use "Hallelujah" as the structural force for this film, they expertly weave in Leonard Cohen's personal history throughout. They remind us that his early song "Suzanne" was written well before he met and married Suzanne Elrod. We hear a bit from the cringe-inducing partnership with producer Phil Spector for one album. The filmmakers highlight Cohen's 1993 decision to isolate at the Mount Baldy Zen Center through 1999, before returning 'back down the hill' to write more songs. It was in 2005 when Cohen discovered that his long time manager had bilked him out of his earnings and assets. This sent Leonard back on tour for the first time in 15 years ... he performed 379 shows over 5 years, thrilling his fans and introducing many new ones to his music.

There have been other documents focusing on Leonard Cohen, most notably, LEONARD COHEN: I'M YOUR MAN (2005), and MARIANNE & LEONARD: WORDS OF LOVE (2019). Both have their merits, yet neither capture the remarkable story of this 'spiritual seeker' as thoroughly as this one. He was an unusual and remarkable man who wrote, "I did my best. It wasn't much." Maybe the only false words he ever penned.

Opens in theaters beginning July 1, 2022.

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