Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose
Everybody knows

—-Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows

Mia Kirshner as Christina in Atom Egoyan’s Exotica

This weekend I had time to sit down and pick a movie from The Criterion Collection. I decided on a film I had seen before – but many years ago and one that I didn’t remember… really… at all. It was Exotica, directed by Atom Egoyan.

I always viewed this film as sort of a bookend to Egoyan’s masterpiece – the fantastic and shattering (and very hard to watch) The Sweet Hereafter. Exotica was made three years before The Sweet Hereafter and contains many of the same themes of survival, guilt, and disaster – but in a different and less focused form.

I don’t think I paid close enough attention the first time I watched it – the movie was very, very good (a notch below The Sweet Hereafter, though the comparison isn’t really fair). Exotica is the name of a strip club where much of the action takes place – though the term and idea of Exotic is one of many themes that soak and permeate the film.

The structure is circular and there are many things that keep reappearing in different ways. Watch for:

  • Handing money to someone (often in a long envelope)
  • One way mirrors (also the murky green glass in the pet store)
  • Parrots
  • The brittle nature of exotic beauty
  • People watching other people, with more than a little bit of threat and danger
  • Contracts, where each person gets a little bit of what they need/want

Be sure and watch until the end. The movie misleads you about what is going on – it plays on your fears and expectations. In the end, it is all explained and the final third of the movie is a fantastic payoff and worth waiting for.

I did a little research about the film – and found an amazingly misleading publicity campaign. It came out roughly at the same time as Showgirls and Striptease… and as it is set in a strip club the movie was billed as another erotic thriller. Look at this trailer:

This trailer is so bad. So bad and misleading I suspect it isn’t a real trailer – someone’s satire.The movie is not exciting or overly sexual, it is a carefully tuned meditation on loss and what it takes to get through disaster and people trying to help each other in any way they can.

Of course, there is the strip club, and the unique and memorable dance by Mia Kershner to a Leonard Cohen song. It actually appears in the film twice (with subtle differences).

So, if you have some time and a decent streaming service – sit down and take a look at Exotica. It may take an open mind and some patience, but it pays off in the end.

First We Take Manhattan

“There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”

― Leonard Cohen

A bit back, I was checking on the sales of Lana Del Rey’s album – in a sort of morbid curiosity on the outcome of a pop culture bloodfeud that I cared nothing about, but was guiltily interested in. Her album busted out on the charts, hovering around the top non-Adel spot, battling with another album by Leonard Cohen. That interested me… I knew who Leonard Cohen was, but I didn’t know who Leonard Cohen was.

Of course, I was familiar with Hallelujah. For a long time, I assumed that old chestnut was a personal cry of lusty woe from Jeff Buckley. But it was written by Cohen… and covered by everybody in the world.

It was made famous for the unwashed masses by Rufus Wainwright version in Shrek. I have always liked the fact that a very successful Dreamworks Children’s movie had a song with the subversive lines, “I remember when I moved in you, the holy dove was moving too, and every breath we drew was Hallelujah.” Yeah kiddos, figure that one out.

 Any startling piece of work has a subversive element in it, a delicious element often. Subversion is only disagreeable when it manifests in political or social activity.

—-Leonard Cohen

I knew that he was a titan of music, but somehow his genius had slipped by me. So I set about cruising youtube and wikipedia and the library’s collection of music and text and immerse myself and learn something.

 “Avoid the flourish. Do not be afraid to be weak. Do not be ashamed to be tired. You look good when you’re tired. You look like you could go on forever. Now come into my arms. You are the image of my beauty .”

― Leonard Cohen

I learned I had been a huge fan all along.

The first song that leaped out at me was “Everybody Knows.”

“a kite is a victim you are sure of.
you love it because it pulls.”

― Leonard Cohen

It reminded me of something, something amazing, and it didn’t take me long to remember the song on the soundtrack of Exotica – one of the great films by Atom Egoyan (it wasn’t up to the quality of the shattering “The Sweet Hereafter” – but what is?) and played during a strange, erotic, and disturbing semi-strip scene at a semi-strip club. The sound and images are searing.

Then there is Leonard himself singing the song… a real heartache.

“Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as a secrets to reveal. A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh.”

― Leonard Cohen, The Favorite Game

Then I came across the song “First We Take Manhattan.” This is probably my favorite Cohen song. I actually remember it best from an REM recording. An excellent version is by the female singer Jennifer Warnes. The eighties video features eighties dancers running down a street for no reason at all, Cohen himself looking mysterious, and, best of all, Stevie Ray Vaughan playing guitar on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Jennifer Warnes is best known for film music (Dirty Dancing, Officer and a Gentleman, Norma Ray) but had a long working relationship with Cohen and did an entire crackerjack album of his stuff – Famous Blue Raincoat.

“It’s hard to hold the hand of anyone who is reaching for the sky just to surrender”

― Leonard Cohen

I found that Leonard Cohen was a poet first, songwriter second, and performer third. I have copy of his novel, Beautiful Losers, but can’t seem to get any traction with it. I’m going to buy his new album and get to know, learn, and love the songs on it.

 “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”

― Leonard Cohen

So, I’m sure a lot of y’all are going to think, “You mean he didn’t know about Leonard Cohen ’til now? Way to be four decades or so behind the time.” More will simply think, “Wha? Who cares? Glee is on.”

 “I have often prayed for you
like this
Let me have her”

― Leonard Cohen

I do the best I can.

“Now suzanne takes you hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From salvation army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For shes touched your perfect body with her mind.”

― Leonard Cohen, Songs of Leonard Cohen, Herewith: Music, Words and Photographs