Tuesday, March 3, 2015
To see her naked body: Leonard Cohen's film I AM A HOTEL
The '70s-'80s music of Leonard Cohen can be a bitter taste if you are not accustomed to it. That art comes off as dated, louche, a one-note baroque internal symphony performed by the orchestra that is the gazing male ego. Yet, it is classic and, to me, irresistible. This 1983 film for Canadian television, I AM A HOTEL, is Cohen manifest.
It takes a painfully '80s ballet leap through five of Cohen's songs, most notably "Memories," a tune from Death of a Ladies' Man, an album Cohen himself can't take. The album started as a collaboration with Phil Spector that was wrested by the latter (it is reported that a gun was involved, go figure) to become a lush, arrogant monstrosity. Each chorus swells up like a tropical storm only to reveal its goal in the momentary calm - "To see her naked body." It's as honest as a rock song gets. It is really good. Old pond frog Cohen even wails "herrrr nakkkked bodddyyyy!" at the end.
Tablet published a beautiful tribute to that album.
The "Memories" scene has Cohen as a mannequin/1950s ballroom singer (maybe a Roy Orbison shadow) perched on a balcony stage as the chambermaid and bellhop lunge at each other. It's notable that Cohen opens the door to the ballroom for these two and then sings as they cavort. That seems to be the deal with Leonard Cohen; he opens doors you know you shouldn't. He is the last ladies' man so you don't have to be.
Otherwise, Cohen sits in his room singing to women only in memories. I'm reminded of one of the greatest Cohen tunes, "Tower of Song" (not included in the film) where he sees himself stuck in a flophouse of artist tradition.
I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me
In the Tower of Song
The film doesn't really go many places Cohen isn't already headed in song, but then, he is the celebrated dark rider in folk music's cloistered sexuality, and he is always motioning for you to jump in the saddle with him.