“HALLELUJAH: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song,” is a new documentary film that tells the story about one of the most beautiful songs ever sung: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The movie explores the life of the late singer-songwriter as seen through the prism of this internationally renowned hymn.
Much of the late Leonard Cohen’s music was inspired and characterized by his Jewish identity. One of his most famous songs, “Who by Fire” is based on the Yom Kipur liturgy. Its lyrics open with the lines “And who by fire, who by water, Who in the sunshine, who in the night time, Who by high ordeal, who by common trial.” These words echo a special prayer about repenting and forgiveness.
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Hallelujah is a Hebrew word that literally means “praise the Lord.” The word is used 24 times in the Hebrew Bible, all in the book of Psalms. And it is used frequently throughout Jewish liturgy.
Leonard Cohen was a big supporter of Israel and performed there many times over the years. The song Who by Fire was composed just after the 1973 Yom Kipur War, in which Israel was attacked by its Arab neighbors on that holy day. Cohen came to Israel during the war and performed for Israeli soldiers.
The Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah was first released in 1984 on his album Various Positions. Icons of the music industry like Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, Willie Nelson and Bono have all performed covers of the song over the years.
It is about King David who, according to Jewish tradition, wrote the Book of Psalms. Its lyrics begin, “Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord, That David played, and it pleased the Lord.”
Choirs sing it all over the world and orchestras perform the song as if it were a symphony.
The new movie was inspired by the book “The Holy of the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of Hallelujah.”
The film’s makers say that HALLELUJAH: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song is a definitive exploration of Leonard Cohen as seen through the prism of his internationally renowned hymn, Hallelujah. “This feature-length documentary weaves together three creative strands: The songwriter and his times; the song’s dramatic journey from record label reject to chart-topping hit; and moving testimonies from major recording artists for whom Hallelujah has become a personal touchstone. Approved for production by Leonard Cohen just before his 80th birthday in 2014, the film accesses a wealth of never-before-seen archival materials from the Cohen Trust including Cohen’s personal notebooks, journals and photographs, performance footage, and extremely rare audio recordings and interviews,” says the website.
The New York Times called the movie a “fascinating study in the mechanics and metaphysics of pop-culture memory.”
The paper described Leonard Cohen’s appearances in the movie as, “a vivid, complicated presence — witty, melancholy, well-dressed and soft-spoken. By the end, he radiates wisdom, gratitude, and the kind of fulfillment whose elusiveness had always been his great subject.”
The Hollywood Reporter said that the movie, “has a better grasp of the artist’s ineffable appeal than most, and a smarter approach.”
And The Wrap calls it, “an affectionate and open-hearted tribute to Cohen and his work, with an emphasis on the one song that might lure in the occasional uninitiated viewer.”