Chew's Reviews - Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love

By Gary Chew | 

If numerous decades have accumulated, bringing you to your current age, there's a good chance a new documentary film called MARIANNE AND LEONARD: WORDS OF LOVE will cause you to think about your old lover… or, if it's the case: lovers. It certainly did for me.

Leonard Cohen can't claim the gravitas of a John Lennon, but Lennie is still a much-appreciated singer/ songwriting icon of dark love songs that make poetic connections to almost all things, and most often, lovemaking.

English film director Nick Broomfield brings this latest documentary with much less an edge than most of his previous films which are more often polemic in substance. No, it is not that M&L: WORDS OF LOVE doesn't have its negative moments, as it is about an affair and the endurance of that relationship between Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen.

Today's gray-haired hippies will be pleased to know their pairing started in 1960 when Cohen, who was born in Montreal, and Ihlen, an Oslo native, met on the Greek island of Hydra. Where else could it be better then, for struggling artists of every kind to flock … and bring their creative passions to a boil?

Cohen was a writer at that time. Marrianne, wanting to be an actress, had fled her Norwegian parents, since they frowned on such a career. She was also exiting a teenage marriage and had brought along her young son.

Idyllic? Oh yes. Vintage footage of her and Leonard on Hydra gives that certainty. “Nice work if you can get it” would seem to me a better way to describe living just off Greece, on the Mediterranean Sea.  Almost too much play and dabs of creative work can have a downside though. So, as if Hydra is at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, free love and doing drugs compel Leonard to split for other climes and shores. His muse, Marrianne, stays put.

Cohen doesn't think he can sing worth a damn, but besides writing novels and poetry, he also begins to write songs. Judy Collins clears away all that faulty introspection of Leonard's by simply telling him to sing his new song along with her on a stage in front of God and everybody in the audience. You can see some of that online if you wish, as well as in Broomfield's documentary.

As he began to sing the melody … with Judy doing the harmony … it was for Leonard, love at first note, thus giving rise to his becoming an iconic, offbeat singer of moving poetry, while accompanying himself on guitar; maybe not as proficient as Glen Campbell, but not a bad picker at all.

Broomfield gives you a few frames of Leonard's brief record biz hookup with the one and only Phil Spector in Loss Anguhleezz. The film then slips back to the hurtful and depressive upshot of what such a freestyle of living can bring. That's part of the gig, folks. In its own way, it's good too, in a kind of melancholy way. You know.

To my recollection, that's what a lot of the Sixties and Seventies were about. This is a memory lane kind of thing for us aged enough to “appreciate” it. But, I'm betting relationships are still much the same. You can't know that when you're a younger person enjoying all those moments, some that might come back to sting, yet remain in your memory pit because you can't, and don't dare forget them … much like the last words Leonard writes to a terminal Marianne … as given in Nick Broomfield's excellent piece of cinema:

Copyright by Gary Chew © 2019. All right reserved.

“Well Marianne, it's come to this time when we are really so old
and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon.
Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand,
I think you can reach mine. And know that I've always loved you for
your beauty and for your wisdom, but I don't need to say anymore about
that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a
very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.
Your Leonard.”


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