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This 1965 Canadian documentary captures Leonard Cohen just as he was poised to translate his notoriety as a novelist and poet into a parallel identity as a singer-songwriter. If the latter role would bring him his broadest and most enduring audience, these glimpses of a still youthful Cohen underscore the Montreal native's prevailing literary sensibilities--even when his poetry readings verge on standup routines, both for his impish wit and the adulation it inspires among his listeners, Cohen's serious craft shines through.
Indeed, the film--shot in black and white and laced with a jazzy instrumental score that suggests a Québecois spin on European cinema--argues that Cohen began as both a peer and an inversion of Bob Dylan. Whereas Dylan's deceptively rough-hewn songs were transcended by their poetry, Cohen transformed his poems into songs. Cohen's self-conscious intellectualism now seems conservative alongside Dylan's cagier, more ambivalent slant on culture, which he lampooned even as he revealed its influence.
Given the film's evident preoccupation with Cohen's poetry and novels, we're given only brief snippets of his music, which confirm his primitive skills as a performer. More interesting is the eerie resemblance the young poet bears to Dustin Hoffman. This home video release augments the original documentary with four animated shorts based on Cohen's songs and poems. --Sam Sutherland
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