Marianne & Leonard: the perils of becoming an artist’s muse
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love the documentary by Nick Broomfield highlights the perils of becoming an artist’s muse. Particularly during the era of free love. Marianne Ihlen and Leonard Cohen meet on the beautiful Greek Island of Hydra, in 1960. This photo of the couple, at the time, is so wonderful. It makes me want to wear a white shirt and waltz around. Their story, not so much. When they get together, Cohen is the author of unreadable books (Beautiful Losers was called ‘the most revolting book ever written in Canada’) and Marianne and her young son Axel have moved to Hydra to escape an abusive relationship. With Marianne’s encouragement and care Cohen turns to songwriting; heading back to Canada every now and then ‘to re-stoke his misery engines,’ as the FT’s film critic so brilliantly puts it. But the more famous he becomes, the longer the hiatus. The more drugs he takes, the more sex with other blonde women he has; while poor Marianne is left hanging around on Hydra.
This being a Nick Broomfield documentary, the director pops up to talk about his own brief affair with Marianne, on Hydra. Which is all a bit unnecessary – what I really wanted was to find out more about Marianne, who remains an enigma throughout. She eventually moves back to Oslo and marries a nice Norwegian engineer but that and her son’s mental health issues are basically all that we are told.
Leonard and Marianne remain lifelong friends. When invited to Cohen’s blockbuster show in Oslo (2009), she graciously takes a seat in the front row and sings along to her tune, So Long, Marianne. The ending, of course, is well documented but incredibly moving. Marianne is in hospital, dying of leukemia and her close friend contacts Cohen, who then sends the most poignant message:
‘Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.
And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and for your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey.
Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.’