This documentary is mostly about a song, but of course it had to also be a documentary about Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) who wrote it.
Cohen was a Canadian Jew who was fond of his heritage. He was a poet who, by the time he was 30, also started to put his poems to music. Soon discovered, his star rose rapidly. Yet he remained -as he said himself- in the margins of popular music.
As a musician Cohan was of course a singer/songwriter with slow, often minimalist and melancholic music. Most characteristic are the lyrics, and Cohen’s deep, warm voice. The documentary has video images of Cohen’s entire career as if he had a cameraman in his surroundings for the entire time. We get a peek into his private life, there are old interviews, people in his surroundings were interviewed as well.
And so we get to the famous song “Hallelujah” with which Cohen had struggled for seven years. By the time he was quite the name in the music business. He had released his material on the big, American label Columbia. “Hallelujah” was part of an album that Columbia thought was not good enough to release though. The song initially did not made it to the big audience, but Cohen did play it at live shows. The song was very religious / spiritual, but since he had so many different verses and kept coming up with new ones, at shows Cohen would sing a much more ‘secular’ version, sometimes even ‘naughty’.
Then John Cale sang the song. He made a mix between the ‘spiritual’ and ‘naughty’ lyrics. His version became better known than that of Cohen. Again later Jeff Buckley made the fame of the song rise to the stars. Especially his untimely death seems to have helped making it a cult-song. When it was used in the popular movie “Shrek”, the whole world appeared to be in love with the song. Cohen himself went in retreat in a Zen monastery and was off grid for several years. After that he made his comeback, he did shows world wide in spite of his rising age. “Halleluja” was a permanent part of his repertoire.
Besides the story of Cohen, you get the story of the song. Several sing/songwriters have been interviewed. Which version did they first hear? When and how did they adopt the song, etc. It has been covered countless times in many different forms ever since.
Geller & Goldfine made a nice documentary in which you get to know Cohen and learn how his song made an impact on the world.