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Music

When looking down the long list of cultural figures of the 20th century, you may have to drag your finger a little longer than is warranted to find the name of Leonard Cohen while he spent his salad days of artistic endeavour locking horns with poetry and prose. Eventually, the gifted writer would turn his hand to folk songs and, with it, start a career that few true musicians can deny. But it isn’t just within the sonic landscapes of pop music and alternative sounds that Cohen’s influence resides, his powerful lyrics can also enhance the cinematic field too.

Leonard Cohen was a poet and novelist before finally releasing his debut album in 1967 at the ripe old age of 33, after being inspired by catching a glimpse of a couple having sex. From then on, the singer-songwriter would traverse the pitfalls of the music industry and keep creating his art right up until his death, even releasing one posthumous studio album that showed he was always at the top of his game.

From his debut Songs of Leonard Cohen, right up until this decade’s release, You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen’s music and lyrics have always been extremely potent and artistically driven. Above all else, Cohen respected his craft, and his intolerance for mediocrity was sensational, meaning not many of his fifteen studio albums are bad records. While music was a vehicle for Cohen to express himself, it was within his lyrics that he excelled most of all.

When one looks through the moments of cinematic joy Cohen has enjoyed, it is again his lyrics that ring true. They are able to embolden and enrich the scantest of scenes and enliven the darkest frames. It is the powerful potency of his words that has outlived Cohen, will outlive most of us and remain a rich part of his iconography forevermore.

Below we have five times that Leonard Cohen made movies better.

Five times Leonard Cohen made movies better:

‘Suzanne’ – Breaking Waves (1996)

Some directors are particularly skilled at choosing the right music for their movies. Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino may be the most obvious choices, but problematic director Lars Von Trier has an equally gifted ear. Breaking Waves was the very first example of what was to come, as he chose to signpost his debut feature film with perfect music choices for his title sequences.

Procol Harum’s ‘White Shade of Pale’ and Mott the Hoople are both used, but the best moment comes when Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ is the leading score for the fifth section ‘Doubt’. It typifies not only the section of the movie but the moody sense of the entire feature.

‘The Future’ – Natural Born Killers (1994)

There are some great movies on our list, but no film better matches the dark intensity of Leonard Cohen than Oliver Stone’s 1994 masterpiece Natural Born Killers. Cohen is given a few different spots in the film, sharing a multitude of songs and a hefty set of reasons for the 1990s audience to rediscover the folk artist of a bygone generation.

If Cohen was somewhat forgotten in the 1990s, then Stone was clearly not one of them. He allowed Cohen’s prophecy of ‘The Future’ to take centre stage as the entry point to his Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis-led journey into serial killer Valhalla. Cohen’s voice naturally denotes the violence we see unfurling before us, providing a coffee-syrup slurp of what’s to come.

‘Hallelujah’ – Shrek (2001)

So we hear your cries of derision, and we take note of the disparity between the two cultural reference points, but outside of the 2001 animation Shrek, there aren’t many moments in cinema where Leonard Cohen’s most famous song is given the room it deserves. ‘Hallelujah’ is usually, it would seem, reserved for the outreaches of television, having found an array of spots on the small screen over the years. But it was with the green ogre that a generation of kids were introduced to Cohen’s work.

Though it must be said, it was John Cale’s arrangement and Rufus Wainwright’s performance of ‘Hallelujah’ that made it into the film. But no matter which way you cut it, hearing the sheer dynamic beauty of the song is always cherishable, be it through animated pixels or not.

‘I’m Your Man’ – The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)

The highly underrated 2016 movie The Fundamentals of Caring is one for any essential viewing list. Featuring Paul Rudd in one of his best roles, we see a charming tale of road trip friendship as Rudd’s Ben quits writing and becomes a full-time caregiver for Craig Roberts as Trevor. What unfurls is a heartwarming story of true friendship.

It is within these walls that Cohen’s song finds enough dirt to flower. Never afraid to share his emotions, Cohen not only plays out as the perfect choice from a classic indie point of view, but the heartened lyrics of ‘I’m Your Man’ work perfectly within the scene, which sees Ben readying Trevor as he stares aimlessly at his love interest Dot.

‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ – Take This Waltz (2011)

It seems only right that one of Cohen’s most achingly beautiful songs about love is given a proper dancing scene in 2011’s Take This Waltz. While the movie isn’t very much to write home about — a semi-saccharine rom-com featuring Seth Rogen and Michelle Williams — Cohen helps to provide one of the most beautiful moments of the entire film.

‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ is a song that perfectly embodies the title of the album from which it is taken, Songs of Love and Hate, and therefore reflects the duality of the movie perfectly. It is a touching stream of consciousness that documents the psychology of a torn individual. His heart-bearing honesty is displayed and preserved in amber once again in a track that proves to be as touching as it is disturbing.