Lian Lunson’s Love Letter to Leonard Cohen
by Brett Leigh Dicks
Few musicians have had such wide-ranging influence on contemporary music as Leonard Cohen. And as another celebration of Cohen and his music converges upon Arts & Lectures this week in the form of Lian Lunson’s poetic cinematic exposé Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, cause and effect are graciously merged into one glowing celebration. Brett Leigh Dicks recently spoke with Lian Lunson about her celluloid love letter to Leonard Cohen.
At what point did the music of Leonard Cohen first enter your life? It was in Australia around the time of punk music. In those early Nick Cave/Boys Next Door days, I was in the same group of people in the Melbourne punk scene. I think I first listened to Leonard Cohen at someone’s house. Believe it or not, all the punksters in those days were listening to him. After going out and seeing a punk band, you would go home and listen to Leonard Cohen!
When did the idea for this film seed itself? I have been a fan of Hal Willner for a long time. We are friends so I have seen quite a few of his tribute shows. He told me about the Cohen tribute he was doing in Brighton, England, and mentioned there was a possibility that he might also do it in Australia. He played me a couple of the songs, and I thought that this would make a great movie. And being Australian obviously made the idea of doing it down there even more appealing.
Marrying concert footage of other artists interpreting his work with a Leonard Cohen interview makes for an enthralling approach. I had a picture in my mind of what I could try and do. I saw the music as chapters of Leonard’s life and that all the performers were different versions of him. But it would need Leonard Cohen himself to really round it out. I went off and did the concert because I knew I had to capture that first, as there was only a small window of time when I could put it together. I met Leonard before I went to shoot the concert and we talked about what I was doing; we met again when I got back, and the interview evolved out of that. By the time I pulled the camera out we were already good friends so it evolved in a very organic way.
The end result affords a cinematic experience that is very much removed from that of a traditional documentary. If I were making a film for diehard Leonard Cohen fans, perhaps I would have gone about this differently. But my aim was to try and reach out to a new audience — to take Leonard Cohen to younger kids and to the fan bases of all these performers. I wanted them to see what an effect he had on the artists they admire. It is more a tribute film than a documentary. It’s really my love letter to Leonard Cohen.
My favorite part of the film is the scene where Leonard Cohen coyly declares that the prospect of touring again is becoming more and more attractive with the more wine he consumes. Can you please do us all a favor and keep the wine flowing? Don’t you worry, I’m doing that! But Leonard is a very spontaneous person and that’s one of the things I learned about him. He works very much on his own time frame. Those artists, the ones who are so powerfully creative, operate on their own schedule. If he decided to tour again it would be great. One of the nice things to come out of the film is that it makes people want to see him more.