The Tribeca Film Festival is ongoing, with both in-person and virtual components, and as usual, there are some major music documentaries. Here are three of the most notable ones:
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song
If there’s going to be a documentary about an individual song, it’s hard to think of a better one than “Hallelujah,” Leonard Cohen‘s 1984 dirge that featured six verses, lyrics full of biblical references, and that single-word chorus. The song has been covered by everyone from Bob Dylan to John Cale to Jeff Buckley and was even featured over a montage in Shrek.
That film is Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song, which played at Tribeca and comes out in early July. Directed by Dayna Goldfine and Daniel Geller, the film examines the song, in the context of Cohen’s entire biography, as well as the events leading up to his death in 2016.
Based on Alan Light’s book, “The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of ‘Hallelujah,'” the documentary shines lots of light on the song, including its long life, as well as the belief of many that Buckley’s cover, which arrived just ten years after the Cohen version was released, is the most significant version.
My only complaint? The film spends a lot of time telling stories about Cohen that have nothing to do with the song. It could stand to be more focused.
In case you were wondering, no, the film does not reference that weird moment in 2016 where Kate McKinnon, dressed as Hillary Clinton, sang “Hallelujah” on Saturday Night Live, days after both the election of Donald Trump and Cohen’s death. It’s sort of understandable — that would be a really weird note for the documentary to go out on. Cohen’s estate, four years later, would threaten to sue Trump for using “Hallelujah” without their permission after his Republican National Convention speech.
The Lost Weekend: A Love Story
This film isn’t exactly about music, but it does explore a romantic affair engaged in by one of the most famous musical figures in history.
Directed by the trio of Eve Brandstein, Richard Kaufman, and Stuart Samuels, The Lost Weekend tells the story of the mid-1970s affair between John Lennon and May Pang, an employee of Apple Records who later worked as the assistant for John and Yoko. The affair, for which Yoko essentially gave her permission, was dubbed “The Lost Weekend” by Lennon himself.
Pang herself narrates the documentary, which features a ton of archival footage along with interviews with the likes of Lennon’s rarely-heard-from son Julian. Pang has written two memoirs about this period, so the stories aren’t exactly unheard. But the doc presents them in a unique way.
There’s been some attempt to do the Framing Britney Spears feminist reappraisal thing with Yoko Ono, and sort of fight back against the narrative of Yoko the Villain Who Broke Up the Beatles. The Beatles: Get Back, for instance, demonstrated that the late-period Beatles had many other things tearing them apart and likely would have split, Yoko or not Yoko. But that said, The Lost Weekend doesn’t paint Yoko especially positively.
This film, which was Tribeca’s opening film and landed on Netflix a few days later, is a documentary about Jennifer Lopez that absolutely feels like a commercial for Jennifer Lopez, but it’s not devoid of worthwhile moments.
Halftime chronicles Lopez’s resurgence in 2019 and early 2020, when she turned 50, starred in the movie Hustlers, ran the awards season gauntlet, and then headlined the Super Bowl halftime show. The title references both that halftime show and the idea that Lopez is halfway through her life (implying that she will live to 100).
The director is Amanda Micheli, and among the film’s producers is Benny Medina, who is Lopez’s longtime manager and producing partner, but you don’t even have to know that to notice that the film is telling Lopez’s version of events. One notable thing is that Alex Rodriguez, who she was dating at the time but has since split from, is nowhere to be found, except for a couple of brief appearances as part of montages.
Much of the news made by the film has come from Lopez appearing less than enamored with the idea of sharing the halftime show bill with Shakira. Multiple people talk about how rare it is for Super Bowl halftime to have multiple headliners, but… it’s not actually rare at all.
More fascinatingly, we hear Lopez talking about politics, something for which she’s not traditionally been associated; she’s mostly denouncing Trump-era immigration policies and is seen having a last-minute fight with the NFL over whether to include a reference to kids in cages in the halftime show. In the end, the film flashes forward a year so we can see Lopez singing “This Land is Your Land” at President Biden’s inauguration.
The film also includes a montage of all the bad press she ever got in her life, including a pretty racist bit from South Park and a lot of media mockery about her love life, mostly her (original) time dating Ben Affleck (their recent rapprochement is not mentioned). A separate montage has talk show hosts, reporters, and even Triumph the Insult Comic Dog asking her about her butt.
There’s a lot of over-the-top praise of Hustlers which, while Lopez was fantastic in it, was sort of loathsome. The film asked us to not judge the characters for being strippers, which is fine and also to not judge them for drugging and robbing men, which is NOT fine.
Jennifer Lopez is a compelling figure, and it’s hard to remain famous for as long as she’s been without becoming one. But the documentary, while very watchable, feels especially self-serving.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.