Last year I went to see Leonard Cohen's sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden at $250 a ticket. I had never heard of him, but my companions extolled his art, particularly his lyrics. Those lyrics are deemed to be poetry by his followers, very much in the style of Bob Dylan. The audience couldn't get enough of him.
I did not particularly enjoy that concert and wondered if I would feel differently about Cohen and his talents if I didn't have to pay such a hefty price to see him perform. So I decided to see this documentary, Leonard Cohen Live at the Isle of Wight 1970, which covers his 1970 concert performance on the Isle of Wight that went on for five days before an audience of 600,000. Judy Collins, Joan Baez, and Kris Kristofferson also performed at that event, but their performances are not shown in the film. They are, however, interviewed on Leonard Cohen.
The difference in concert and movie ticket price did not cause me to change my mind. I found Cohen to be far better in both voice and presentation in his Garden performance than he was in 1970, but I have concluded that he has a cult following, and I am not caught up in the spell.
Joan Baez, whom I still adore after so many years, is interviewed in the documentary saying that Cohen's presentation proves that lyrics and their meaning are unimportant if he reaches you down deep as Cohen does. Maybe he does for some, but certainly not for me.
Under these circumstances, it would be unfair of me to pin a plus or minus on this film. Those who are part of his cult, should definitely see it. Those who have never seen him perform, should also see the movie so that you can judge his talents for yourselves rather than be influenced by an octogenarian who still considers Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and Baez's "Diamonds and Rust" to be two of the greatest folk songs ever written.
The film is playing at the Cinema Village on 12th Street, between Fifth Avenue and University Place, one of my favorite theaters that shows offbeat films and has comfortable seats.