Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne In Akerman’s Portrait Of A Young Girl At The End Of The 1960s In Brussels

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On the soundtrack during their encounter in the apartment, we hear Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Suzanne’ (Michèle shoplifted the album from a music shop earlier during her and Paul’s wanderings), the lyrics of which (‘Suzanne takes you down/to a place by the river/you can see the boats go by/you could spend the night beside her…’) form a poignant counterpoint to the encounter shown and implied onscreen. This is Michèle’s first sexual encounter, but given the importance accorded to Danielle and Michèle’s connection, it is tempting to ‘hear’ Cohen’s song as the reminder of the presence of yet another woman in the room.

From Identity and Memory: The Films of Chantal Akerman by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster

Portrait d’une jeune fille de la fin des années 60 à Bruxelles
Suzanne by Leonard Cohen

Video: Earliest Recording Of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne – The Stormy Clovers 1966

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Leonard Cohen and The Stormy Clovers

In The Beginning Were The Stormy Clovers
ie, The Beginning Of Leonard Cohen’s Songwriting Career

A year before Leonard Cohen or Judy Collins performed his music on stage, the Stormy Clovers were playing Cohen’s songs at festivals and in clubs, coffee houses, and campuses in Toronto, Montreal, and other Canadian cities and towns (see Introducing The Stormy Clovers – And Their Songwriter, Leonard Cohen).

This relationship between the band and Leonard Cohen was not completely unique. The Stormy Clovers were a popular group, playing their own material and songs given them, for example, by Gordon Lightfoot and Ian Tyson as well as those authored by Cohen. Because, however, they were the first to play Leonard Cohen’s songs professionally, their performances do hold special significance.

Because I suspect most readers share my own curiosity about the experience of working with Leonard Cohen during that  seminal period, I have filched a few lines from the narrative by band member David Fougere (aka DD Fraser) that will be published here beginning next week:

The first time I heard ‘Suzanne’ we were at Leonard and Marianne’s apartment on Aylmer Street in Montreal. … Leonard sang:

Suzanne takes you down to her place by the river
You can hear the boats go by…..

We were spellbound. When the song came to an end the room was utterly silent.

The Video & The Lyrics

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Gripping Black & White Video: Leonard Cohen Performs Avalanche & Suzanne – Hannover 2010

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Video Technique And Stage Presentation Meet In Recording Of Suzanne And Avalanche Performed By Leonard Cohen

As the headline indicates, this post showcases one video, Leonard Cohen performing “Suzanne” followed by “Avalanche” at the September 27, 2010 Hannover Concert.

Those two songs alone would make this video significant. “Suzanne” is arguably the most representative work in Leonard Cohen’s repertoire, dating back to the beginning of his career as a singer-songwriter, and “Avalanche” is a favorite of many fans, especially those who have admired Cohen over the years, but had been rarely played during the current tour until recently.

The video of this performance set is from anniesnake, who has contributed, by my count, seven videos from the Hannover show, two shot in color and five, including the “Suzanne” – “Avalanche” sequence, in black and white.

The stark clarity of the black and white recording fits seamlessly with the tone, lyrical content, lighting,1 and the staging, which revolves around Cohen accompanying himself on guitar.

From my perspective, the black and white videography significantly enhances the focus of and emotional impact on the viewer.

Leonard Cohen – Suzanne and Avalanche
Hannover: Sept 27, 2010
Video from anniesnake

The same technique, equally well executed, is, however, less successful on a number like “I’m Your Man” in which the other musicians play an important role and mood shifts from somber to satyric. The difference in the two videos is less that “I’m Your Man” is somehow flawed than that it lacks the profound resonance of “Suzanne” and “Avalanche.”

Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man
Hannover: Sept 27, 2010
Video from anniesnake

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  1. The lighting for the Cohen Concerts is an often overlooked aspect of the presentation. In this context, it is particularly notable because the same dramatic effects that are most compelling for the live audience can prove insurmountable obstacles to still photographers and videographers. []

Video: Leonard Cohen’s Somber, Powerful Performance Of Suzanne – Ljubljana 2010

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And you want to travel with him, and you want to travel blind
And you think you maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with her mind

Despite the suboptimal camera movement, this video competently captures Leonard Cohen’s unembellished, moving performance of Suzanne.

Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
Ljubljana: Oct 12, 2010
Video by o5b

Note: Originally posted Oct 14, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Newly Posted Videos: Leonard Cohen Performs Suzanne & Lover, Lover, Lover – Kingston 2012

kingston2The same videographer responsible for the incredibly popular recording featured in yesterday’s entry, Newly Posted Video: Leonard Cohen Performs I’m Your Man and Hallelujah – Kingston 2012, has also posted videos of strong performances of two other songs from that same concert: Suzanne and Lover, Lover, Lover.

Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
Kingston: December 13, 2012
Video by JP Rayne

Leonard Cohen – Lover, Lover, Lover
Kingston: December 13, 2012
Video by JP Rayne

Leonard Cohen’s Notes On Suzanne: “Everything happened just as it was put down”

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I wrote this [“Suzanne”] in 1966. Suzanne [Verdal] had a room on a waterfront street in the port of Montreal. Everything happened just as it was put down. She was the wife of a man I knew. Her hospitality was immaculate. With guitar in hand, I decided to turn this poem into a song. I even sang it to Judy Collins over the telephone. She immediately liked something about the song but couldn’t tell me what it was. The publishing rights were lost in New York City and it is probably appropriate that I don’t own this song. Just the other day I heard some people singing it on a ship in the Caspian Sea.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From “Some Notes On The Songs” on back cover of The Best of Leonard Cohen album (1975)

Discreet Video Captures Leonard Cohen’s Intimate Performance Of Suzanne – Bercy 2013

suzAnd you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind

The Sublimely Subdued Bercy Video

While I typically gravitate to videos with high contrast, bright, clear images close-up shots, and lots of action (e.g. Leonard Cohen and Roscoe Beck doing their white man dancing jig), I was overwhelmed by this video of Leonard Cohen singing Suzanne at Bercy on June 18, 2013, a recording which features a nearly stationary camera view and austerely understated visuals.

Leonard Cohen Performs Suzanne – The Bercy Cafe Version

The video by Lili072012 is shot from a perspective across from stage left. The camera does not zoom or pan. It does shift midway through the song to capture Alex Bublitchi during the brief period when his violin is dominant. The stage lighting obscures everyone except Cohen himself, the backup singers, and, briefly, Alex Bublitchi. There is little movement by the musicians themselves.

The video excludes awareness of the audience and the concert hall, invoking the sense of watching the performance from a well placed table at a coffeehouse. (OK, the last time I listened to music at a coffee house was when I heard Brewer & Shipley singing One Toke Over the Line at a place in Kansas City, but the video is more along the lines of what I imagine live music would sound like in a sophisticated Paris cafe.)

It is the perfect match of song and video technique.

Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
Bercy: June 18, 2013
Video by Lili072012

Note: Originally posted June 18, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“It raised the standard of what I wanted to write.” Joni Mitchell Talks About Hearing Leonard Cohen Sing “Suzanne” At The 1967 Newport Festival

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At the [1967] Newport Folk Festival … Leonard did Suzanne. I’d met him and I went, ‘I love that song. What a great song.’ Really. Suzanne was one of the greatest songs I ever heard. So I was proud to meet an artist. He made me feel humble, because I looked at that song and I went, ‘Woah. All my songs seem so naive by comparison.’ It raised the standard of what I wanted to write.quotedown2

Joni Mitchell

From Joni Mitchell In Her Own Words by Malka Marom. ECW Press: September 9, 2014. Originally posted Sep 2, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric