Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle of Wight Movie Review

In a possible case of sweeping scraps of film footage off the edit cutting room floor forty years after the fact, director Murray Lerner (Festival, From Mao To Mozart) once again revisits that historic UK offshore island summer concert on its closing night, with Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle of Wight 1970. And while much of the groundbreaking music and related vibes back then never cease to fascinate as nostalgia or magical rediscovery by succeeding generations, the cult-like introspective strumming of the Canadian folksinger, guitarist, songwriter, poet and novelist seems curiously dated.

Though you could never tell by the worshipful throngs back then of 600,000 youthful crashers and periodic vandals and arsonists, whose more rowdy instincts – even meanspiritedly booing Kris Kristofferson off the stage when not setting fire to it – were instantaneously pacified when Cohen appeared. Even if enthused contact high charisma could hardly be credited, as Cohen, somewhat reluctantly summoned to take the stage in the middle of the night to calm the hordes, appeared either pooped or stoned, or even both.

And while an assessment of Cohen to be fair, could be an outsider-looking-in point of view if not an acquired taste that might not stand the test of time today on American Idol, who can say, his own self-styled, emotionally insular brand of singing poetry certainly readily, and nearly effortlessly established an unmistakable sense of shared stranger intimacy. Even in the presence of these hundreds of thousands of followers, cheering on favorites like Suzanne and Bird On The Wire.

But the filming itself comes off as a primarily sedentary affair, almost as if the static visuals were caught by chance on surveillance cameras and not much else. And with more than welcome occasional upbeat soundbites from concert performers Kristofferson and Judy Collins. While Joan Baez insists, though not terribly convincingly, that Cohen ‘proved a song doesn’t have to make sense.’ And even as the tired troubadour back on stage appears to hardly care, as if communing privately with his own slo-mo vibe, while staring off past the crowd into another dimension.

Sony Music Entertainment


2 stars

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.