Directed by Nick Broomfield
From 26th July 2019
Reviewed by Colin Serjent
Having been a long time admirer of Leonard Cohen, notably his early albums, Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs of Love and Hate, and having seen him perform a solo set at the Liverpool Empire in the 1970s, this proved to be a memorable documentary to watch.
But Marianne Ihlen did not come across as an endearing person. When she was pregnant with Cohen’s child, she had it aborted – which I am sure did not please him at all – and neglected her child Axel when he was about nine-years-old. She registered him at an oddball educational institution, where the children were not compelled to attend classes, while she travelled to various parts of the world. Due to this traumatic period in his life Axel suffered mental problems later in life.
But back to Leonard! Having completed two books of poetry, he departed Canada in 1960 to live in the sun-drenched Greek island of Hydra. This is where he met Marianne, who became his muse and lived with him on the island for seven years.
Due to both of them having endless lovers, notable Cohen, their relationship could not be sustained, although they remained friends for the rest of their lives.
The archive film shown is outstanding. Marianne is filmed by D. A. Pennebaker, who was living there at the time.
It came as no surprise to see more attention paid to Cohen than Marianne in the documentary, given his status in the music scene.
What I did not know before was the influence Judy Collins had on him when he first ventured into singing live on stage in 1967. He began performing ‘Suzanne’ but stopped halfway through due to stage fright. After some persuading by Collins he returned to complete the song..
Later in her career she recorded cover versions of a number of his compositions.
Cohen made some bizarre decisions in his life, not helped by his constant drug taking of LSD, speed and mandrax. They include agreeing to let gun-toting Phil Spector to produce the album ‘Death of a Ladies’ Man’, which proved to be a flop, and becoming a Zen monk for several years, during which time his manager at that time, Kelley Lynch, stole $5 million from his personal accounts and investments and left him virtually penniless.
There is a poignant ending to the documentary when Cohen sent her an email when Marianne is close to death at 81-years-old. It is read out to her by a friend. ‘I am just a little behind you, close enough to take your hand. Safe travels old friend. See you down the road.’
Cohen died three months after Marianne’s farewell to life in 2016.