Sanctuary of a Temporary Kind: Leonard Cohen

By | October 11, 2011

All images in this post are from: Ladies and Gentlemen... Mr. Leonard Cohen (video still), 1965.
National Film Board of Canada, directors: Donald Brittain and Don Owens.

While many are familiar with Leonard Cohen’s memorable songs of erotic encounters in hotel rooms, there is a lesser-known narrative of the hotel that Cohen offers in the 1965 National Film Board documentary, Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen. This was a time when Cohen was known for his poetry rather than his song writing, and the film catches him on a return trip from Greece to his hometown of Montréal. He is staying in a $3-a-night hotel in Montréal’s Tenderloin district–an area of the city centered on the corner of St. Laurent and Ste. Catherine streets.

The hotel room, Cohen says, is a sanctuary, a refuge, an oasis. It is a place to lay low and pursue the five hours of writing that he likes to commit to each day. As he rises from bed, looks out the window and washes up, Cohen’s voiceover offers his appreciation for the room: “You always have a feeling in a hotel room that you are on the lam; and it’s one of the safe moments in the escape, it’s that breathing spot. The hotel room is the oasis of the downtown; it’s a kind of temple of refuge. It’s sanctuary, sanctuary of a temporary kind, therefore all the more delicious. But whenever I come into a hotel room, and there is the moment after the door is shut and the lights you haven’t turned on illumine a very comfortable, anonymous, subtly hostile environment, and you know that you’ve found the little place in the grass and the hounds are going to go by; for three more hours, you’re going to have a drink, light a cigarette, and take a long time shaving.”

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