When it comes to Leonard Cohen’s 1984 song “Hallelujah,” most people fall into two camps: You heard it via Jeff Buckley or via Shrek. If you’re in that very small minority that my husband is, a record store manager, then you’ve heard it through the cover of Bob Dylan or Cohen himself. We get it, you’re super cool. Me, and probably most Gen Xers, know this from Buckley’s 1994 cover. Shrek (either John Cale’s version of the film or Rufus Wainwright’s re-recording on the soundtrack album). Whichever camp you fall into, it’s a song that almost everyone knows, but it’s also a song that most couldn’t tell you who wrote it.
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a journey, a song was inspired by Alan Light’s 2013 book Sacred or Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Rise of “Hallelujah” and the documentary pretty much covers Cohen’s life in the early 90s, then picks up around his return to recording and touring in the early 2000s. The film delves into all aspects of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” – the time it took to write the song, the meaning of the song, the various covers of the song, and what Cohen thought of it.
Directors Geller and Goldfine (Something has ventured, Ballets Russes) must have realized at some point that they had too many good things on their hands, not just about the song “Hallelujah” but about Cohen himself. The documentary, meant to be about the song, is half-filled with Cohen’s journey from his early days in Quebec to the early ’90s, when we finally hit the Jeff Buckley section. I don’t regret the first 45 minutes, I understand you need to see some of Cohen’s life to get to the early 90s, but if so much time is spent on those decades why not just do some the entire life of Cohen your documentary? Do a separate document on the song, God knows there’s enough material on it. Among talent shows, beauty pageants and funerals, search for “Hallelujah” on YouTube and see how many videos there are. In Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a journey, a song, it looks like two different documents are linked together. As interesting as I found it, the movie tried to focus on two parts of a story when it only needed one.
The song itself is powerful, there’s no doubt about it. Depending on the version, the singer, the listener, the atmosphere… it takes on a different meaning for everyone. I lost track of how many times I heard “Hallelujah” in the movie. Each of them was amazing. As the movie neared the end, I thought to myself, “I did this without being emotional.” Cue kd lang singing the song at the 2017 Tower of Song: A Memorial Tribute to Leonard Cohen concert. His voice is amazing and, yes, it made me cry.