Nick Broomfield Discusses Leonard Cohen’s Music Career

Award-winning director Nick Broomfield reveals the story behind one of Leonard Cohen’s most iconic songs, “So Long Marianne,” and the muse who inspired his music.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: What drew you to this subject, to Leonard and Marianne and words of love, particularly?

NICK BROOMFIELD, DIRECTOR, “MARIANNE AND LEONARD”: It’s definitely the most personal film I’ve done. When I was 20, I happened to go to Hydra, this idyllic island in Greece, and I met Marianne. I was pretty lost, a 20-year-old, just started university, studying law and Marianne kind of completely opened my eyes to this whole other world.

AMANPOUR: So, when you met her, did you know she was the Marianne of Leonard Cohen?

BROOMFIELD: Well, at that time, I had never heard of Leonard Cohen or Marianne or never heard the song. So, I just so saw this incredibly beautiful Norwegian woman who was several years older than me and I was like, “Wow. This is — heaven has landed,” kind of thing. But we had a sort of enduring friendship and she encouraged me very much to make my first film and had a very big influence, really, on my future. And when she and Leonard died three months apart, I was — well, there was such a big fixture, I think, and I think Leonard’s work resonated with so many people that I’ve just felt I wanted to revisit that time.

AMANPOUR: You know, people will be fascinated because everything Leonard Cohen seems to fascinate people and he did have that massive revival of his own career before he died and he went on tour and suddenly, a whole another generation got to learn about Leonard Cohen. How did Leonard Cohen become Leonard Cohen under Marianne’s tutelage? How did this kind of geeky guy who is getting by on maybe book and — or not getting by, turn up on the Greek Island of Hydra and return a major recording star?

BROOMFIELD: Well, I think Hydra is very, very beautiful. And Leonard, I think, bought a house for $1,500 and could live there for virtually nothing. So, people were able to explore their art. And I think he and Marianne met very early on. Marianne’s first marriage had split up. And I think Leonard very much befriended her and was looking after, helping and being a father to her young son, Axel.

AMANPOUR: I want to play a little clip. I mean, it’s much later. It’s Leonard Cohen bald and perhaps during one of his monetary periods and he’s talking about love. And I want to play it because you are talking about love. “Words of Love,” is the title of your film and I want to talk about it.


LEONARD COHEN: The love is that activity that makes the power of a man and woman, that incorporates it into your own heart, where you can embody man and woman. When you can embody hell and heaven. When you can reconcile and contain. When man and woman becomes your content.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour speaks with Malcolm Gladwell about his hit podcast, “Revisionist History.” Award-winning director Nick Broomfield joins the program to reveal the story behind one of Leonard Cohen’s most iconic songs, “So Long Marianne.” Walter Isaacson sits down with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough to discuss his new book.