Having sat on a shelf in Hollywood for more than three decades, Tony Palmer’s intimate and elliptic documentary of Cohen on a European tour in 1972 has been preened, polished and digitally remastered by the director for its DVD debut. It’s an extraordinary study of an artist at work and the impact he has on his followers, but it’s a million miles from the happy-go-lucky japes of A Hard Day’s Night.
Palmer’s unobtrusive filming style, for which he would earn worldwide praise with the release of his marathon All You Need Is Love series a few years later, is perfectly suited to an enigmatic figure such as Cohen. There’s no real attempt to plug any new product (the singer had recently released his Songs Of Love & Hate album), instead the cameras eavesdrop on live shows in Dublin, London, Paris, culminating in Tel Aviv, which includes frightening footage of heavy-handed security attacking fans.
Cohen drifts throughout the proceedings less like a beloved musician and more like an academically-inclined guru, granting personal audiences to like-minded poets and writers. Yet he tends to brush off any suggestions by Palmer that he’s some kind of charismatic voice of wisdom, seemingly uncomfortable with the excitement his arrival in each city creates. He’s not the most forthcoming of interview subjects, but Palmer’s lens still manages to deliver a curiously revealing portrait.