Leonard Cohen, Patricia Rozema, & The How To Be Happy Documentary


This entry began as a How About That? sort of post about Leonard Cohen’s involvement in a contemplated but never executed documentary. Soon, however, the notion of a documentary transformed from subject to substrate, and the focus became the interaction between Patricia Rozema, who was to direct the documentary, and Leonard Cohen, singer-songwriter, poet, icon, and potential documentary topic.

This kind of thing happens a lot around here.

How To Be Happy – The Documentary

In 2006, the pilfering of Leonard Cohen’s savings (“enough,” he commented “to put a dent in one’s mood”) led to a proposal for a documentary about him, in part, as a means of replenishing his funds. Asked if she would be interested in working on the project. Patricia Rozema, a Toronto-based film director, writer and producer,1 and a fan who doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t know about Leonard Cohen, responded with “I’d pay to do it.”

Consequently, she and Leonard met in New York to discuss possibilities. They discussed such matters as the documentary’s storyline, theme, and structure (one idea was to film Leonard at dinners with friends and family), And, when they discovered Patricia had another project in mind called “How To Be Unbearably Happy” and Leonard had serendipitously written a poem called “How To Be Happy,” they decided the name of the film was fated to be “How To Be Happy.” They also touched on Leonard’s fiscal problems that had him reeling, although he was “more perplexed than angry.”

Nonetheless, Patricia’s memories center not on the documentary but on Leonard himself. For example,

I explained to Leonard that I usually work with fictional characters so they are putty in my hands. Leonard looked at me and said, ‘Patricia, I would love to be putty in your hands.’

As Patricia notes.

Leonard is charming and open. Every word from his mouth is a jewel.

The 2006 Indigo Bookstore Event – Toronto

Two years before the 2008 World Tour, Leonard Cohen spent the Saturday afternoon of May 13th, 2006 listening to – and occasionally singing along with – Anjani, Ron Sexsmith, and the Barenaked Ladies performing his songs. (See Videos & Photos: Leonard Cohen, Anjani, Ron Sexsmith, Barenaked Ladies At Indigo – Toronto 2006)  As part of this documentary, Patricia filmed Cohen’s performance with Anjani & Ron Sexsmith

It was at the Indigo event that Leonard admitted to Rozema some discomfort with being in the public eye after such a long period of solitude.

Leonard & Patricia

After the 2006 Toronto event, Patricia and Leonard met a handful of times, including another New York rendezvous during which Patricia was introduced to Lou Reed. They also communicated on many topics via email, an exchange that continued even after the project was abandoned, ceasing only with Leonard’s death.

Patricia’s predominant, enduring impression is of a “gentle man” who invariably displayed “deep respect” and possessed the unique gift of combining “the profane and the sacred.”

I can think of no better way to close this post than than with this heartfelt advice Leonard proffered to Patricia;

You must do the thing you want most.
We are all our own crash test dummies.


Credit Due Department: The outstanding photos of the Indigo event were taken by Joan Vinall-Cox, who has enjoyed Cohen’s poetry and songs since 1968 when she bought his first album. She was in position to take these pictures because of winning two fourth-row seats to the show in a contest she had forgotten entering. Happily for viewers, she and daughter Meryle were able to attend (and reportedly had a lovely time).

  1. Her work includes I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, Mansfield Park, Into the Forest, In Treatment, Grey Gardens, Mozart In The Jungle, and Anne, along with others []

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