Leonard Cohen’s timeless tune, “Hallelujah” is one that warily weighs the importance of the divine spirit with devilish affairs. Part of the reason why the song has been so timeless is that it functions as a bridge between gospel music and traditional pop ballads. In Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song, directors Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine adapt this bridge for the cinematic form, creating a film that plays like the structure from the romantic genre mixed with the philosophical musings of a sermon.
The film begins with the birth of Leonard Cohen’s musical career, and his years long effort to pen a final version of “Hallelujah”. This is akin to the meet cute or kismet first act of any romance. We learn a bit about the two subjects (song & artist) but both are still shrouded in some sort of mystery.
When the song finally strikes a secret chord with audiences, we see the couple break off into different entities. Cohen retreats to a mountaintop monastery for nearly 7 holy years. Meanwhile, “Hallelujah” falls prey to praise and glory that comes with fame. After a few covers where the artists came from a place of true connection, the song becomes commodized. Hollywood executives break the lyrics’ throne and cut its metaphorical hair, morphing the song into a shell of its former brilliance. Even in the film itself, “Hallelujah” begins to lose its impact after hearing the umpteenth rendition of it.
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song’s establishment of this love story between art and artist makes one question the relationship of creator intent and audience reception. Cohen likely never expected “Hallelujah” to hit the stratospheric musical heights it has, but has the audience now turned his grapplings of sexuality and religion into just another gospel song? Is the original intent still present or has it been buried under mounds of meaningless remixes? This is just the tip of the philosophical journey that Geller & Goldfine’s documentary takes you on.
In the Jewish religion, there is an entity known as the Bat Kol, which directly translates to “daughter of a voice”. This soft female voice is known to give echoes of divine inspiration for those who are willing to listen. The Bat Kol must have been unleashing her holiness onto Leonard Cohen as he wrote the timeless classic, “Hallelujah” and onto Geller & Goldfine as they crafted one of the best documentaries of the year.
The Silver Lining
One of the biggest draws to Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song is hearing Scott R. Lewis’s glorious mixing of Cohen’s archival recordings. The poetic mumblings of the singer reverberated throughout the theater, making it sound as though he was singing to the audience from beyond the grave. Whoever ends up distributing this feature (I heard first hand that Neon & MUBI are not in the mix), they should strongly consider giving this a proper theatrical release. The emotional impact that the mixing has in a dark quiet theater is a religious cinematic experience.
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song is coming soon to a screen near you.