Leonard Cohen Live at the Isle of Wight 1970


This latest from the cottage industry of Cohen-in-concert memorabilia (I’m Your Man, Under Review, Live in London) offers the best vintage available. Director Murray Lerner, whose latter-days career consists largely of revisiting footage from the Isle of Wight concerts, presents a re-sequencing of Cohen’s 2 a.m. set from the 1970 festival’s final day. With only sparse coverage available, Lerner doesn’t have the option of distilling the confidential performance—a virtue. Much of the film is simply Cohen on-screen, dressed like a Camus protagonist in head-to-toe khaki, held in medium close-up, fervid-eyed through his measured recitation. Exceptional live recording by Teo Macero does justice to the Army, Cohen’s band of (mostly) Nashville session vets, including fiddler Charlie Daniels and Songs From a Room producer Bob Johnston, performing a set list drawn from Cohen’s first three albums, closing on a funeral note with “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy.” Lerner solders things together in a narrative arc, breaking for new interviews with witnesses—Kris Kristofferson and Joan Baez—who cast Cohen as a musical sedative. Born-ancient “I know we are not new” Cohen followed young, hellraising Hendrix (with three weeks left to live), subduing a mutinous crowd of some 600,000 with raincoat-weather songs in 3/4 time.