By Gregory Crofton
Leonard Cohen, the beloved poet and troubadour from Montreal, surely was a narcissist, but name a great artist who doesn’t carry at least a touch of self obsession?
More interesting was Cohen’s struggle with depression, his heavy use of drugs and a motto that influenced him, one suggested by a friend: “Do the wrong thing.”
Director Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer) allows us to look inside Cohen’s unconventional life with his new documentary “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love.”
In 1960, when Cohen was still only a poet, he went to Hydra, a Greek island, and wrote a book high on LSD while sitting in the hot sun. It was there on the island, a place known for its community of hedonistic artists, that Cohen met the love of his life, divorcee Marianne Ihlen.
They stayed together for years, but after he became, really overnight, an international success as a singer, things got difficult for them. Cohen toured the world and went to bed with many women, including Janis Joplin, during his self-described unromantic “blue period.”
There are plenty more interesting stories in Broomfield’s doc, such as Cohen’s experience recording an album with Phil Spector, as well as some cool live clips of Cohen performing. The film plods a little, but ultimately the pace pays off.
Critics of Broomfield point out that he injects himself into the story too often. With this film, Broomfield actually is part of the real story, but he keeps it brief and handles it well. He too had had a love affair, albeit a brief one, with Ihlen. Ever the muse, it was she who encouraged Broomfield to pursue filmmaking, just as she inspired Cohen to do his work.