In 1972 Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen was at the height of his popularity both in his native country and abroad. The antithesis of the rock and roll gods who normally dominate popular music and fill venues wherever they play, Cohen captivated audiences and listeners with the unabashed sexuality and intellect of his work. Even today, well into his 70s, he remains a charismatic figure and retains the ability to enthral audiences the world over. Somehow, even those who might not have sufficient knowledge of the English language to grasp the nuances of his words are held as if in thrall when he climbs on stage. A true troubadour of the heart and soul, nothing seems to impede his ability to communicate with an audience.
However, what we have witnessed over the last couple of years, whether in person or on DVD, are a master in his declining years. Though even now there are few performers able to match his power to connect with an audience, what must it have been like to see him when he was at the peak of his prowess? While the release last year of footage taken from his performance at the Isle of Wight in 1970 gave us some idea as to his abilities, the conditions in which the concert took place — due to rioting by the audience and other crazy circumstances he ended up not taking the stage until around two in the morning — did not make it ideal for viewing him at his best. While it was amazing to see him calm down close to half a million people who had gone as far as setting fire to the stage after nearly five days of bedlam, it wasn't what anyone would call a typical Cohen concert, if there could be such a thing, from the period.
Two years after that performance Cohen embarked on a 20-city tour that would take him from Dublin, Ireland to Jerusalem accompanied by a film crew under the direction of British documentarian, film, theatre and opera director, author and critic, Tony Palmer. Probably best known for his astounding 17-part television history of pop music, All You Need Is Love, by 1972 Palmer had already directed 23 movies including concert films of Cream (Cream Farewell Concert 1968), Frank Zappa's 200 Motels, and the documentary Ginger Baker In Africa. For some reason though, Cohen wasn't happy with Palmer's edit of the footage and requested it be re-edited by a person of his choice. Unfortunately the result was so botched that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), whic had commissioned the film, refused delivery and it was never broadcast.