Leonard Cohen has been the subject of two tribute albums. Countless artists have covered his songs, and when Kurt Cobain tried to imagine heaven, the best he could come up with was the afterlife Cohen had already concocted. That kind of influence is a creative debt that's tough to repay, which may be why those who've been touched by Cohen's work keep trying. Half documentary, half concert film, Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man alternates performances of Cohen's songs at a Hal Willner-staged tribute concert with new interviews and archival footage of the man himself. Director Lian Lunson keeps the tone reverent, making I'm Your Man the cinematic equivalent of a testimonial dinner. But there's a place for that kind of film, particularly for subjects who've earned it.
Making little distinction between the sacred and the profane—or at least not the distinctions most make—Cohen writes songs of exhausted romanticism and the wisdom that comes from learning that happiness rarely stays in one place for long. In spite of some distracting sound effects, Lunson's interview segments get at the source of some of that sentiment. Cohen is such a mesmerizing narrator of his own life, it's a shame the sound bites don't dig deeper; there's probably a first-rate autobiography in the outtakes.
The real story's in the songs anyway, and most of those who come to pay tribute to Cohen do right by them. Lunson doesn't try to overwhelm the performances with intricate camerawork, which is fine. They don't need them, and when the subject's as compelling as Antony—whose body language says he'd rather be anywhere else, but whose voice suggests he'd die if he couldn't sing—it's best not to lose focus. Rufus Wainwright gets more time than anyone else, which works out well. He sounds born to sing Cohen's songs, even though his expressive voice couldn't be further from Cohen's earthy growl. And while Cohen appears to be in good health, the unspoken subtext of both concert and film is that he's leaving his songs in good hands. "You'll be hearing from me, baby, long after I'm gone," Cohen sang in his original afterworld number "Tower Of Song." Rest assured.