Ladies & Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen + Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970

Co-presented by Don’t Knock the Rock

Throughout his 60 year career, Leonard Cohen’s intrepid quest for truth and beauty led him through many transformations. From bright eyed post-collegiate bard, to silver tongued brooding troubadour, to gruff cigarette-and-whiskey-soaked casanova, to Zen Buddhist high priest of song. His early days though, as he grew from literary star into one of the most revered songwriters of any generation, are arguably his most fascinating. Placed side by side, Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen and Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 serve as spellbinding documents of that transformation.

Ladies & Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1965, two years before his musical career began, Ladies and Gentlemen is a jazzy snapshot of Cohen the poet. It follows him at age 30, already renowned with 3 books of poetry and a novel under his belt, as he visits his wintry hometown of Montreal. As though mesmerized by his charisma, the cameras fix on him as he gives readings to enraptured audiences, gets a haircut, and wanders around the snowy streets, exploring as if taking notes for future verses.

Dirs. Donald Brittain & Don Owen, 1965, 16mm, 45 min.

Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970
Five years and two albums later at the Isle of Wight festival, Cohen was roused from sleep at 4am. He took to the stage, scruffy, bleary and sporting his pajamas, before a huge restless crowd. The fest is notorious for its bad vibes, but once Cohen – and his outstanding band – kicked in he hypnotized the masses with what would be one of his most mythic performances. At turns shambolic, rousing, and haunting, the set was packed with some of his greatest songs (most notably an early version of Famous Blue Raincoat). Fortunately, Academy Award winning documentarian Murray Lerner was there to capture it and the resulting film, which took nearly 40 years to be released, is epic. To watch Live at the Isle of Wight is to bear witness to Cohen’s ascent, from poet and folk singer to the strata of legends.

Dir. Murray Lerner, 2009, Blu Ray, 64 min.

Preceded by Poen. Dir. Josef Reeve, 1967, 16mm, 4 min.