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Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song, A Documentary, and A Review by Ron Wells

July 28, 2022


Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song

In 1993, country singer kd lang introduced me to “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. It is her voice that I hear when I recall the song that comes to us through quite a journey, a journey that almost wasn’t, a journey shared with us in a new documentary. It took awhile before I understood who wrote the song and how it became so well known; this documentary takes us there. Learn more in this review by Ron Wells.

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song is a documentary especially for those who like Leonard Cohen’s song, “Hallelujah,” or are even more interested in the man himself. Directed by Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine, the documentary uses Hallelujah as a jumping off point to give a penetrating look into the fascinating life of Cohen. Writer Larry “Ratso” Sloman,  producer John Lissauer, and singers such as Judy Collins and John Cale offer opinions and insight into Cohen the man, and Cohen the musician. The filmmakers delve into Cohen’s Jewish background, as well as his 6 years spent in a Zen monastery, painting a picture of a man always in search of a deeper meaning for his life. They also document how 5 million dollars was stolen by his business manager, and how Cohen regained the desire to continue touring late in his life.

All the while, the path of Hallelujah was ongoing as record executive Walter Yetnikoff rejected it outright forcing the song to be picked up by little Passort Records in New Jersey. Still, the song wouldn’t die, and Cohen continued writing and rewriting it—up to “150 different verses” over 8 years according to writer Sloman.

Along the way Bob Dylan sang the song, and Cohen modified it from a religious song to a secular one.

It was John Cale who combined both sets of lyrics into one song.

Jeff Buckley played it night after night until his early death helped contribute to its eventual popularity.

From there, the movie Shrek used it and tv performance show singers covered it until it became the well known song it is today.
The song, or just parts of it, appear over and over again in the documentary film including live performances by Cohen himself that are spellbinding.
The merging of Cohen’s extraordinary life with what may well be remembered as his most memorable song—along with other songs he wrote and are also heard in this film—will lead many viewers who are not acquainted with the singer/songwriter to explore even more of his work. This is a highly entertaining documentary of a song, a man, and his most remarkable journey.
No matter how you know the song, it’s moving and memorable. I would have included a version by Cohen but all send you away.
Check out the story behind the song, and learn about the man who wrote it and performed it, Leonard Cohen in the new documentary, Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song.
Read Ron’s “Tribute to Leonard Cohen, RIP: A man whose songs were like cracks that let light in” from 2016.
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