History books will remember documentaries in the 2010s as the era of the celebrity hagiography.
Famous musicians were the platonic ideal of this commercial genre, promising not only to educate audiences on the lives of these beloved icons (and their historical contexts), but also: at the very least, you’ll get to enjoy all that glorious music, with archival footage of concerts and studio recording sessions to boot.
But recently, as with the vast majority of non-tentpole offerings, these documentaries have been relegated to the boob tube of streaming.
Perhaps to (partially) freshen up the form, not one but two different documentaries released in as many weeks add a wrinkle to the tried, true, and tired formula.
One would expect Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song and The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don Mclean’s American Pie to be typical full-biography hagiographies. BUT, their titles speak to what differentiates them from the norm. Maybe mindful of the common criticism of biopics to hone-in on one aspect of a career/figure as opposed to blanket overviews, they focus less on the sperm-to-worm of their lives (though they still delve into such Wikipedia timelines, because they just can’t help themselves from their slavish impulse), and more on the sperm-to-worm of each artist’s respective claim to fame, and how they intersect with cultural and sociopolitical history.
Hallelujah charts Leonard Cohen’s trajectory through the specific prism of the title song’s inspiration, creation, and proliferation; to flesh out the title (Cohen’s suggestive artistry always stands to be fleshed out): through the journey of one song, we learn the journeys of who touched it and were touched by it.