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4.7 out of 5 stars40
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 15 March 2010
Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Murray Lerner has unearthed quite a gem in making this film, featuring Leonard Cohen's mesmerizing Isle of Wight performance from 1970. The 64-minute film deftly weaves modern interviews from relevant performers and associates of Leonard Cohen with the vintage musical performance by Cohen and his band, the affectionately named "Army" comprised of such stalwarts as legendary music producer Bob Johnston.

The audio quality is a sonic revelation, obliterating my expectations for a live multi-track recording from 1970 staged in front of 600,000 fans that had gotten rowdier as the festival progressed. Jimi Hendrix had performed his set before Cohen, with the crowd setting various things on fire like a piano and the scaffolding surrounding the stage. But the music was not to be denied, as Leonard Cohen slowly took the stage after they found a replacement piano and organ.

At 4 a.m. on August 31, 1970, the man introduced to the crowd as "a novelist, a poet, an author, a singer", began his intimate performance that encompassed most of the hits that had earned him acclaim, from "Bird On the Wire" to "Suzanne" and other well-known songs mainly from his first two albums. A nice surprise are the short stories Cohen shares and poem fragments he uses to introduce many of the songs. The crowd, who had booed previous performers like Kris Kristofferson, sat in rapt attention to the mostly acoustic set. My only quibble is that the complete audio performance by Leonard Cohen is not included on the Blu-ray. The CD version includes a couple of songs not shown in the documentary. I have no idea if the footage simply did not exist or was simply left out at the director's discretion.

The Blu-ray, on a single BD-25, is transferred from the original 16mm camera negative to 1080i. This is not footage that is going to blow viewers away by its visual quality. In fact, on an comparative basis, the BD is well below the norm expected for high-definition titles. Prepare for an experience of limited visual quality that remains faithful to the limited fidelity of the existing film. It is true that this Blu-ray replicates as closely as possible the 16mm film source the concert was shot in those many years ago. The modern interviews, with such luminaries as Judy Collins and Joan Baez, are all in excellent picture quality, but do remind the viewer of the inherent limitations in the concert footage as they are interspersed between songs. Still, it looks similar to the other concert footage I have seen from the era on the Blu-ray format. The only major defect is the continual appearance of an ultra-thin vertical black line that runs down the middle of the camera image on tight close-ups of Leonard Cohen. It looks to be the result of a continuous gate scratch on the original 16mm film. A small emulsion error in the original master also appears in the corner of the frame, later in the concert.

On a technical basis the transfer looks perfect without a hint of artifacting, revealing every limitation and nuance of the source material. The AVC encode consistently runs at very high bitrates, most of the time in the thirties. I would estimate an average video bitrate of 31 Mbps, which allows the fuzzy film, shot in questionable lighting conditions to reveal its full resolution on Blu-ray. The image has a low-contrast appearance that is soft and has moments of poor focus. The black levels have some minor exposure problems, revealing a bit of noise. This is not a transfer with remarkable shadow detail, or even average detail, but looks on par with other concert footage I have viewed from the period. The Woodstock documentary on Blu-ray has vaguely similar picture quality. Tiny white specks that look like flash bulbs do pepper the image from time to time. It rarely becomes a distraction though.

The picture quality is tolerable enough to enjoy the real benefit of this BD release, the uncompressed high-resolution stereo PCM track at 24-bit/96 kHz and the lossless 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Both are simply spellbinding and really the only way one should listen to this material. Mastering engineer Mark Wilder has done an outstanding job. The music shows absolutely no signs of limiting or compression, and reproduces without fault this live audio document. It captures the full magic Leonard Cohen made that night on stage, connecting to the audience in a way few performers ever achieve in a lifetime. I wish most music releases were mastered this carefully. There is not a hint of thinness to the sound, and the fidelity is surprisingly great for a project of this nature. At times the songs approach the quality of the studio versions in dynamics and clarity. The producer did not attempt to cover up any deficits in the original recording though. A few microphone pops occur, and occasionally instruments bleed into other channels. The audience is barely audible most of the time, except during the musical interludes. With both SACD and DVD-Audio being commercially irrelevant for the major music labels, this disc is the best fidelity we will ever see this music presented in a commercial medium.

A lot of care and thought has gone into the packaging and presentation of this release. Included is a 16-page booklet that has wonderful photographs and top-notch liner notes by Sylvie Simmons. The booklet reproduces the same content of the booklet included in the CD/DVD release, but in a much larger format that is easier to read and enjoy. It really makes the numerous archival photographs easier to appreciate. It is rare to see such entertaining and insightful liner notes that significantly add to the product, but that is plainly the case here. Aside from a menu, there are no extras on the disc itself.

Currently this BD is an exclusive title at the Internet retailer Amazon. Fans of Leonard Cohen need to go out and pick this item up immediately. The concert is a window to a much younger looking-and-sounding Leonard Cohen. The sound quality alone is enough reason to buy it, for Cohen truly invests emotion and vigor into the performance, that puts a new spin on songs for fans only familiar with the album versions. His vocal inflection adds a bit of emotional weariness to "The Partisan" for example that is simply not there on the album version. The only lackluster performance is "Famous Blue Raincoat", where it sounds as if Cohen's voice grows fatigued by the long night. The backing musicians all give splendid accompaniment to the music, though the camera rarely shows them, aside from the two comely female singers at Cohen's side.

Subtitles available:
Spanish
English
French
Dutch
Italian
German
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on 21 October 2009
Memories, Dreams and Reflections - Isle Wight 1970 - DVD/CD 2009.

Me and... Leonard Cohen at Isle of Wight 1970 and 2009

By Peter Solomon 1970 and 2009

I was just two months shy of my seventeenth birthday at 4 am on August 31 1970 and I knew all the words, I was maybe 50 to 75 yards from the stage just outside the overrun VIP and Press enclosure and Leonard Cohen was about to appear on stage at the Isle of Wight Festival.

My older brother Chris was to blame for me being there, for he introduced me to Leonard Cohen, and I had become smitten, I had caught the Leonard Cohen bug big time, which I would be unable to shake off for the rest of my life.

I knew all the songs and all about Marianne, Suzanne and Nancy. And I knew Tonight Will Be Fine, for I had waited 5 days and nights with hardly any sleep, after hitch hiking 250 miles with a friend Johnny Vernon from Manchester in the north of England to be there. I had just slept through most of Jimi Hendrix's set, though disappointed to have missed him, that was unimportant as I had come to see Leonard Cohen, and was slowing moving forward to get as close as possible to the stage.

Looking back now after nearly 40 years it seems like a dream and I have woken up and am watching the DVD of my Dream, compulsively, 3 consecutive times so far and also listened to the whole CD. It's as if time had become dislocated and the warp and woof of reality expanded to include a 40 year Present Moment.

As I watch I am really identifying very intensely with almost spiritual longing with that young man at the beginning of the DVD who was about my age, it was like coming to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus he says, except Leonard Cohen is no 'baby Jesus', and it also felt as much like Babylon as Bethlehem, with Fires, Chaos and Free Love all on display. But it was still like a holy pilgrimage for me.

I wanted so much to connect the 2 time-streams, as I watched Leonard on the DVD, the present with the past, to be there again, with my 17 year old self who was waving matches in the night, through the cold mists of time, trying to signal his presence to his future self. The strangeness of being a mere part, a cell in the huge Beast of Babylon that was the crowd, a Body of 600,000 people. You Know Who I Am, You've Stared at the Sun, sang the poet and prophet in the middle of the night and we stared at the stage where there was a human star burning with such bright intensity, as we stood in awe in the vast dark, small points of light, our matches in our hands.

The 1970 Leonard Cohen never looked so prickly and real, so unshaven, so raw and human yet so sensitive and spiritual, so powerful and yet so frail. So spaced out yet so centred in the moment. Speaking and singing from the heart with words and songs that communicate with the souls of men. He looked like some suffering Christ like figure that came to tell the world the truth but had just been woken up and did not really want to bother.

This was the biggest rock festival in the history of the world and there has not been anything like it since. I was there to see Leonard Cohen in 1970 at the Isle of Wight and feel after viewing the DVD in 2009 that events like these go beyond their stated purpose and moment, reverberate through time and become cracks in the fabric of the world and as Leonard would say, `that's how the light get's in', we enter a Communion with the Higher Powers. "We pray for the angels and then the angels pray for us" to misquote LC. The negative forces on Devastation Hill become insignificant, they had played their part to pump up the intensity and now are just another part of the story, another part of the myth... of how the artist calms the savage beast and opens a spiritual channel for transcendent love to flow and manifest in the world.

Leonard Cohen's words and songs are mined from the very deepest heart and soul. They are like the golden thread from some magical loom, which weave their way through time and remain with us from moment to moment, as we grow older they make our lives richer, more meaningful and bearable.

I am so pleased to have had this chance to be transported back 40 years in time and relive my younger days again. It`s been an experience full of unique and extraordinary memories and emotions. And thanks to Leonard Cohen for being a beacon of light in the darkness of the world, truly he transcends past and present, to bring us the timeless truth of the heart.

If you want to know what it was like to be at one of the defining moments in musical history...buy this DVD/CD.
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on 22 October 2009
This arrived this morning. I listened to the CD this afternoon, and I've just finished watching the DVD and I'd give it ten stars if I could.
This is just the most phenomenally intense performance I've ever seen, especially "Nancy". It doesn't matter if you've lived with these songs for forty years like I have, or never heard them before, JUST BUY IT, I promise you'll not regret it.
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on 23 October 2009
Brilliant performance from one of the few artists who can make singing in front of 600,000 people seem so intimate an occurence. One caveat though, the DVD is NTSC format; it plays OK on your PC, but not on the TV.
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on 22 November 2009
`Leonard Cohen - Live at the Isle of Wight 1970' is more than just a live concert; it is a piece of social history. He is one of the most charismatic and compelling performers of our time. This combined DVD and CD gives an insight into the angst and confusion of a whole generation and the timeless quality of his songs is illustrated by the success of his much acclaimed world tour, which continues into 2010.
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Like a fellow reviewer I was there that night - I was nineteen to his seventeen. We must have been standing near each other, judging by his description of where he was located on that last long night at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.
That year it was a line-up to satiate the gods - Joni, Miles, the Moodies (who were dismal), Kristofferson, Tiny Tim, ELP (well, I had to have a kip sometime), Joan Baez, Donovan, Ten Years After (the late Alvin Lee playing fast and saying little), The Doors (who I missed! Maybe I arrived after they`d been on), a wayward, jazzed Jimi at his last official appearance before his death later that year, and Richie Havens, who followed Cohen at about four in the morning, closing the festival and bringing in the dawn.
By then I was a worshipper at the St Leonard shrine (I know better now, and worship has turned to enduring love). This was the first time I`d seen him live, and I must have been shaking with impatient excitement. I remember, as one of half a million or so people, feeling like it was an intimate concert among friends - mind you, all his concerts feel like that.
This DVD and CD of the event is more than I dared hope for in my wildest dreams. The CD sounds wonderful, one of the better live Cohen records (to put alongside Live in London & Field Commander Cohen) and the DVD is intelligently shot by Murray Lerner, with Cohen and his band The Army looking rather cramped on that festival stage, the man himself blissed out on mandies (apparently the whole band were) and sporting uncharacteristically long hair and a stubble.
If you already like or love Cohen, you`ll need this, but if you`re new to him and his miraculous, timeless songs, this wouldn`t a bad place to start. You`ll hear many of his early classics - long before he`d even dreamed of Hallelujah - including one or two from the then as yet unreleased third album Songs of Love and Hate. Those songs sounded enticing to a young Cohen worshipper who played his first two LPs all the time and wondered what haunting glories the man would come up with next. Mind you, he wasn`t in the best voice that night (all those mandies...) but he still sounds utterly compelling.
After Hendrix`s literally incendiary set, Cohen calmed a multitude that night, only a year after Dylan had slightly disappointed many on the same turf, Free triumphed, and Tom Paxton had stolen the show.
This double-whammy is manna from heaven. Ignore those who`ve stated the DVD doesn`t play on a TV (of course it does) or any carpings about sound or vision (both are superb, especially considering how long ago this was) and just revel in Leonard Cohen in his early prime, singing some of the most beautiful songs you`ll ever hear to a mass of people who didn`t know how much they loved the man.
My only disappointment is that, among the faces in the crowd snapped by Lerner, mine is conspicuous by its absence. Or perhaps that guy in the blue shirt behind that other guy`s arm is me...
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on 19 April 2014
The setting was the Isle of Wight concert in 1970, in the middle of the night. Kris Kristofferson had been booed off the stage and Leonard Cohen was called from his van, still half asleep. The crowd of thousands were silent as he started to sing and swept the whole crowd along with him through the rest of the night. Amazing and probable never achieved by anybody else.
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on 12 January 2014
Great performance by Cohen and The Army at the Isle Of Wight Festival 1970. The DVD movie, is very good, great sound in both stereo and excellent surround, and a sometimes stunning performance by Cohen and his band, The Army.
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on 19 May 2013
I love Leonard Cohen's work, and this is an insight into his early skills of how to handle and audience in the anarchic days when groups thought they should have everything for nothing. If you like Cohen, I would recomend this as an historical documentary of how things were.
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on 18 April 2010
I have listened to Cohen,s music for about 40 years. Even the best music shows some wear and tear over the years and therefore it was a delight to view this excellent concert film; I re-understood why I loved this music all these years. The absolute, concentrated feeling of here-and-now capitivated, and the suggestive power is total; the man really gets to you. The production of this film is very good. My favorite track for now is " Tonight will be fine" as it so vitalized compared to the record version, on stage it is extatic, and hilariuos. But here is no dull moments in any of the songs. It is also interesting to see the singer in his short time hippe style, longedhaired. Adds some period feeling.
There are some interwievs, but they add to the set and for repeated listening you can easily skip the talk and just listen to the complete songs -- which for me is essential when it comes to music-films.
If you like Cohens music, don,t hesitate, get this.
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