In 1979, Canadian filmmaker Harry Rasky was already respected for his documentary profile of the painter Marc Chagall and his biopic of Tennessee Williams. His next project, however, put him in the challenging position of writing, producing and directing a study of Leonard Cohen that drew upon a friendship that had existed since the early 60s; the director had known Cohen when he was a poet for whom “the song was yet to come”.
Rasky notes how he saw this task as being akin to capturing a phantom, but it’s clear that the end result delighted its subject since this book, part recollection, part written reproduction of the film’s interviews, commences 20 years later with a phone call from Cohen to Rasky thanking the author for “the magnificent gift [of the film]… I never thanked you enough”.
Students of Cohen’s work will find this intricate portrait an illuminating rumination on the nature of creativity and the religious, sociological and geographical pressures that mould the way in which a poet sees the wider world. For the less committed, the intimate access provided to Cohen’s thought processes overwhelms the biographical narrative, but the nature of friendship creates an interesting dynamic between inquisitor and subject.