In November 2016, the singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, renowned for his plaintive ballads, died a few months after the woman who inspired many of them, his Norwegian lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen. Theirs had been a large and chaotic romance that was in many respects a product of the particular times (the 1960s) and the specific place (the Greek island of Hydra) in which they met. The relationship’s legacy was a catalogue of classic songs – So Long Marianne, Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye, Bird on the Wire – a great deal of heartache, but also a lasting sense of the creative power of love.
All of this the documentary maker Nick Broomfield explores in his tender, funny and hauntingly moving new film Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love. Broomfield is not a disinterested observer. He knew Ihlen well. They too were lovers for a while during one of the long breaks in Ihlen’s relationship with Cohen. And her effect on the film-maker was almost as influential as her part in the Canadian poet-musician’s career.
Broomfield - Year - Cardiff - University - Law
In 1968, when Broomfield was 20, he’d just finished his first year at Cardiff University, where he was reading law. His heart was not really in becoming a barrister and, on a Hellenic cruise with his parents, Rosalind Runcie, the wife of the future archbishop of Canterbury, gave him some advice. “She was the life and soul of the party,” he recalls, “and she made me promise to go to Hydra when I got off the boat.”
He kept the promise and encountered a captivating new world. “There was this incredible community of artists and painters and a whole very wild attitude to life,” he says in his trademark languorous drawl, located somewhere between the home counties and southern California.
Heart - Idyll
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