The relationship between the singer and poet and his girlfriend,
muse and lifelong friend is the subject of a new documentary
It is August 20, 2013 and
Leonard Cohen is on stage at Spektrum arena in Norway. The Canadian singer is
78 and enjoying a late-period critical and commercial renaissance that began
with his return to touring in 2008 after 15 years away, and the release of his
2012 album Old Ideas. In the show Cohen revisits many of his
greatest songs, so it is not surprising when he starts his first encore
with So Long, Marianne.
“Now so long, Marianne,”
Cohen sings, “it’s time that we began to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about
it all again.” The lights are up and the audience in Oslo quietly sing along.
Among them is a woman in the second row wearing a white blouse and black
cardigan. She has a shy smile as she sings. When the song ends she stretches
her hand in the air as if waving to Cohen. The woman is Marianne Ihlen and she is the
inspiration behind the song and the woman who 50 years earlier had been Cohen’s
lover and muse.
The story of Ihlen and Cohen’s relationship is told in a new
feature documentary from Nick Broomfield, and the footage of that concert in
Oslo is one of the highlights. It was shot by Jan Christian Mollestad, a close
friend who had attended the concert with Ihlen. He, like Broomfield, is a
documentary-maker and had met her in 2004 while making a film about her first
husband, the novelist Axel Jensen. He approached Ihlen. “I wanted to hear about
her marriage to Axel,” he tells me from his home in Norway. “I called her and
she agreed to meet. I thought we should talk about Axel, but she was much more
interested to talk about Leonard.”
Cohen and Ihlen began their relationship in Greece in the SixtiesBABIS MORES
Ihlen had met Cohen in the
spring of 1960 on the Greek island of Hydra. He was a 25-year-old aspiring poet
and Ihlen was a year younger with a young son and an unfaithful husband. Hydra
was a jewel of an island that attracted artists, writers and painters as well
as Jacqueline Onassis, Princess Margaret, Maria Callas and the like. Cohen and
Ihlen started a relationship. She would later describe those early days as
filled with “writing and lovemaking”. Cohen would write at least three pages
during the day and the evenings would be devoted to drinking, dining and
“Marianne knew what an
artist needed,” Mollestad says. “She let Leonard work and she knew when to come
with a cup of tea. She was not just his lover, she was also someone who
encouraged and inspired Leonard.”
One day Cohen, who was
prone to depression, was in a dark mood and unable to write. Telephone wires
were being installed on Hydra at that time. Ihlen told him to get up and write
something because it would make him feel better. Cohen got up, looked out of
the window at the telephone cables and noticed a bird on the wire. It was all
the inspiration he needed to start a new song.
Cohen plays guitar with Ihlen, right(JAMES BURKE/GETTY IMAGES)
Cohen decided that for the sake of his creativity he needed to
spend part of the year in Montreal, so for the next decade he divided his time
between Ihlen in Hydra and relationships with other women in Montreal and New
York. Ihlen followed him to New York in 1967, when Cohen was sleeping with
Janis Joplin, for whom he had written Chelsea Hotel. In the
documentary we hear Ihlen saying that she wanted to put Cohen “in a cage, lock
him up and swallow the key. All the girls were panting for him. It hurt me so
Ihlen also had other relationships. “Neither was faithful and
there were many lovers,” Broomfield says. “Being faithful was not a highly
prized commodity then.” It was around that time, in 1968, that Marianne met the
20-year-old Broomfield. The couple were briefly lovers and remained friends.
“She had this talent to listen to people when they talked,” Broomfield says.
“She honed into their specialness and then encouraged people to act on that.
She encouraged me to make a film. She was an inspirer and I am sure she did
that to Leonard too.” Ihlen had encouraged Cohen when he had been a struggling
writer, and his book of poems, Flowers for Hitler, published
in 1964, was dedicated to Marianne.
Ihlen remained in love with
Cohen after the relationship ended towards the end of the 1960s. He continued
to send her money, asking after her son and sending tender telegrams. Ihlen,
having married two writers, eventually left Hydra and returned to Norway, where
she worked as a secretary and married an engineer with children from a previous
marriage. But although she was living an existence far from her former life on
Hydra, Cohen remained a presence in her life. “She became a painter in her
later years and in all the paintings she made they always had a text from
Leonard as their title,” Mollestad says. “She was very proud of the songs that
were written about her.”
Whenever Cohen performed in Norway, Ihlen was offered tickets —
that was how she came to attend the concert in Oslo in 2013. “His chauffeur had
come with tickets to her front door and she had invited me,” Mollestad says.
They were told that filming was not allowed, but when Cohen started
singing So Long, Marianne Mollestad felt that it was too
important a moment not to capture on his mobile phone. “I felt there was
something special between Leonard and Marianne,” he says. “He knew very well
that she was there. It was electric — everyone at the venue knew that Marianne
was there and so it was a very special moment when he started to sing the song
and it was so nice when Marianne started to sing along.”
After the concert Ihlen was
invited backstage, but she had to wait for Cohen to finish talking to the
Israeli ambassador. “The ambassador was talking for so long and she left after
30 minutes,” Mollestad says. “So she didn’t meet him that night.”
Three years after that
concert Mollestad received a text message. It was July 2016. Ihlen had visited
him a fortnight earlier and had been fit and healthy. “It said that she was in
hospital and was going to die,” Mollestad says, “and asking me to please take
care of her husband and son.” Mollestad went to the hospital and was told that
Ihlen had been diagnosed with leukaemia and would be dead within the week.
wanted Mollestad to do her a favour. “She said, ‘Could you please tell
Leonard,’” he says. “So that night I wrote a letter to say sorry to disturb
you, but I think you should know that Marianne will shortly die and it would be
so appreciated if you could write something.” He received an automated message
saying that Cohen was out of the office for a year on tour. “The next morning I
went to the computer very early and there was this beautiful letter with short
poetic beautiful prose,” Mollestad says. “I printed it large and put in a plastic
cover and I went to the hospital and I read the letter that I had written to
him and then I read his letter to her.”
Broomfield’s documentary we see Ihlen lying on a hospital bed, her eyes barely
open, listening as Mollestad reads Cohen’s letter. “Dearest Marianne,” it
begins, “I’m just a little behind you, close enough to take your hand. This old
body has given up, just as yours has too, and the eviction notice is on its way
any day now. I’ve never forgotten your love and your beauty. But you know that.
I don’t have to say any more. Safe travels old friend. See you down the road.
Love and gratitude, Leonard.”
In the footage that Mollestad
filmed at Ihlen’s request she is visibly moved by the letter. “That was very
beautiful,” she murmurs, “very beautiful.” On July 28, 2016, two days after
receiving the letter, Ihlen fell into a coma and died. She was 81. For her
funeral Ihlen had requested that Cohen’s song Anthem be
played. “Ring the bells that still can ring,” Cohen sings, “forget your perfect
offering/ There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.” Cohen
died, aged 82, in Los Angeles three months later.
such a beautiful thing to do to be so affirmative about what she had meant to
him,” Mollestad says. “For Marianne it was confirmation that all the love she
had felt for him was a love he had felt for her.” That should have been the end
of the story — the quiet death of a woman who had spent the previous four
decades in obscurity. Instead Cohen’s letter went viral and the world fell in
love again with the story of Marianne and Leonard — young lovers who became old
friends. “Everyone hopes or wishes that when you have been with someone for
that long it should be regarded as an important chapter,” Mollestad says.
“Leonard fulfilled something that everyone wants — that the love you shared was
not in vain. They gave a lesson to us all by showing that love is everlasting.”
Marianne & Leonard: Words of
Love is in selected cinemas from Friday
I løpet av 15 år har vi etterhvert samlet enormt materiale med spennende personligheter og historier fra Stabekks mangslungne historie. Vi har intervjuer med Jo Benkow, Knut Haugland, Bab Christensen (barnebarn av Barbra Ring), Steinar Hofseth (som rømte hjemmefra for å delta i krigen i RAF som 17-åriing), dikteren Heljar Mjøen, Møbeltapetserer Inger Eide, Jernvarehandler Martinsen & sønn, Konrad Langeland mens han graver ut kjelleren på Jeppe, Danmarks store trubadur Sebastian som vokste opp i Kveldsroveien fra han var 5-8 år, fotograf Egil i Kinobygget, patrene Antoine Ivens og Jo Neve som var prester i den katolske Mariakirken i Nyveien, skuespiller Rolf Sand osv osv…
I tillegg har vi alle de fantastiske byggverkene – og skjebnene som har utspilt seg inne i dem – og utenfor. Og kjente historiske personer som har tilknytning her: Peder Anker, Grev Hermann Wedel-Jarsberg, Welhaven, Vinje, Garborg, Bjørnson, Ola Thommesen som skapte Tidens Tegn, Kittelsen, Rektor Hertzberg, Quisling, Ella Fitzgerald, Olsenbanden, Dizzie Tunes, filosofen Peter Wessel Zappfe, Erik Bye, Arne Næss, Bokhandler Dybwad, Hamsun, Jonas Lie jr – krimforfatteren og krigsforbryteren, malerne Kai Fjell og…. dikteren Henning Kramer Dahl som døde i fjor, så altfor tidlig.
Dette gir bare et glimt av ingredienesene – nå blir jobben å lage et fint måltid av det!
VISSTE DU at Ella Fitzgerald bodde på Stabekk med en norsk storsvindler? Eller at Quisling arresterte alle lærerne på Stabekk gymnas? Og at Olsen-banden ranet Stabekk Sparebank? Stabekk er full av spennede historie – og av viktige kulturminner.Til våren skal politikerne vedta Reguleringsplanen for Stabekk sentrum. Da er det lett å rive viktige kulturminner hvis man ikke vet bedre.Derfor haster det med å få filmen ferdig! Vil du være med på dugnaden?Vi er fortsatt på jakt etter fotografier og gode historier. Send gjerne et tips til email@example.comHvis du vil bidra litt til SPLEIS-aksjonen, er linken: https://www.spleis.no/project/19383Alle som bidrar med ditt eller datt, blir listet opp i rulleteksten – slik at vi for alltid husker at vigjorde denne dugnaden sammen!Vi inviterer allerede nå til premiere i slutten av mars 2018.Mer om Mollywood her: http://www.mollywood.no/