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Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller had been working on HALLELUJAH, LEONARD COHEN, A JOURNEY, A SONG for half a decade or so when the pandemic struck. When I spoke with them (with occasional comments from their parrot) on June 17, 2022, my first question to them was how that event shaped the film. For them, the resonance was very personal, involving both a family member and Leonard Cohen’s penchant for questioning God in his work.
The documentary itself was suggested to the pair, known for BALLETS RUSSE, NOW AND THEN: FROM FROSH TO SENIORS, and THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR: SATAN CAME TO EDEN, by their friend, film critic David Thomson, who wondered if they’d like to make a documentary about the Cohen song, “Hallelujah.” It turned out to be a dynamic way to tell a different story about the legendary singer, songwriter, and poet, as well as providing a consideration of how a song can overcome the gatekeepers that didn’t see its beauty. That’s a question I put to them later in our conversation, but before then they talked about the painful choice to cut a segment with Kate McKinnon talking about performing the song as Hillary Clinton for the cold open of Saturday Night Live right after the 2016 election.
They went on to describe gaining access to, and working with, Cohen’s magical notebooks; nailing down the actual number of verses in “Hallelujah”; their ongoing relationship with the song after spending so much time with it; what they observed about how Cohen’s performance of the song changed over time; and the effect they’ve noted in audiences around the world, and in themselves at festival screenings.
We finished up with what is says about us that this song has such resonance with so many people, and what it says about the culture’s gatekeepers that Cohen’s initial recording of “Hallelujah” was not released in this country, despite being recorded, and paid for in advance, by and American label.