Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah As Watchmen Sex Scene Soundtrack – Debate Continues

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Same Song, Same Sex Scene, More Opinions

First, a refresher on the issue at hand1  and a word about why I am re-visiting it.

In the just released  film version of the classic comic, Watchmen, two of the superheroes, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II, are shown in a – um, let’s call it a vigorous sex scene2 set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Zack Snyder, the Director of Watchmen, addresses that choice in an interview with James Parker that appeared in the Boston Phoenix:

James Parker: The sex scene between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II is pretty great — the boots, the zips. And you’ve got Leonard Cohen doing “Hallelujah” over it.

Zack Snyder: Well, I originally had a different version of “Hallelujah” on that scene — it was the version by Allison Crowe, and it was really beautiful. Too beautiful, as it turned out, because when I showed it to my buddies, they were like, “Wow, you really mean this, this love scene.” So I was like, okay, that didn’t work. But with the Leonard Cohen, in that moment, it’s a little sadder of a song, it’s a little bit more twisted, it’s a little more broken, which expresses to me what’s going on in that scene, between those two characters.

Vehement responses to and downright nasty debates about the use of Leonard Cohen’s own version of “Hallelujah” in Watchmen’s sex scene continue to resound across the Internet. The two previous Heck Of A Guy posts on this issue, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah – Mood Music For Watchmen SuperHeroic Sex Scene and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah In Zack Snyder’s Watchmen – Bizarre, Sublime, Nuked The Fridge?, have received more than five times the typical number of daily page views since they went online, a number that is especially striking because almost all hits have been the result of individuals finding those posts via search engines rather than a social bookmarking service such as Digg or Stumbleupon.

And, as noted in the news item, Watchmen Dethrones Slumdog, the movie itself has proved popular in the theaters:

Watchmen … dominated the world box office,  soundly overthrowing last week’s champion Slumdog Millionaire. The comic book movie … grossed over the weekend [the first weekend of the movie’s release] a decent but unspectacular $83 million, nearly 55 percent of it in North America. … Though weekend gross for Watchmen was not as spectacular as many had hoped, the R-rated film directed by Zack Snyder (whose 300 released in 2007 was a huge hit worldwide) has begun its run with promising numbers. How much money the $120 million movie would make in the final reckoning could be guessed only after two or three weeks.

The Other Broken Hallelujahs

One of the major points of interest within this topic is Zack Snyder’s decision to replace Allison Crowe”s  “too beautiful” version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with Cohen’s own rendition.3

For those unfamiliar with the variants of “Hallelujah,” I’ve included videos of Cohen’s and Crowe’s versions.

I have also, however, provided a video of the extraordinarily poplar cover by Jeff Buckley, a version spontaneously mentioned by a handful of bloggers and commenters as having been the best hypothetical choice for the superheroes’ sex scene.

Nor are these are hardly the only possibilities. This morning, LeonardCohenFiles Covers Of L Cohen lists 198 covers of the original. Consider how the Watchmen sex scene would have differed if any of covers feature in the following Heck Of A Guy posts had been used.

Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah

Allison Crowe – Hallelujah

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah

Responses

In addition to blog and website postings, on-point commentary can be found at Like A Tweet On A Wire,4 which is now monitoring Tweets on the subject of  “Hallelujah AND Watchmen.”  Also, pertinent stories from online periodicals can be found on the news feeds at  “Hallelujah and Watchmen” on  Leonard Cohen News Topics5

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This just in: Zack Snyder’s use of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah made moviegoers around the world forget they were watching Dan and Laurie get it on. I don’t know where their minds were yanked to, but everyone found it distracting.
~ Elisabeth Rappe, Cinematical

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The character development was really well done, which I didn’t expect. The film did feel a bit rushed, despite being almost 3 hours, but you still got to know and feel for the characters, even if you hadn’t read the comic. Superhero movies too often skip character development in favour of cramming in more explosions (the dickhead Brett Ratner’s X-men 3 being the shining example), which leaves me uncaring. Oh, and the Leonard Cohen sex scene. Did not see that coming, but fucking awesome.
~ Tom, One Whiskey

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When Patrick Wilson’s Nite Owl and Malin Akerman’s Silk Spectre have sex—to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which is as close to having a sense of humor as the film gets—the scene evinces the sensuality and distinctiveness of a cheap 1980s soft-porn flick.
~ Comiks Debris

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But we really go off the deep end with the marriage of Dan and Laurie making sweet sweet love (complete with Archie ejaculation) while we listen to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Yeah. This scene gets to the point of the most confounding thing about the movie — in some cases it’s faithful to a fault (we really didn’t need to see Archie shooting its flaming load across the night’s sky even though it is in the book) and in others it makes seemingly arbitrary, pointless changes (why not use the Billie Holiday song the book uses to spark the love scene rather than Cohen’s awkwardness?). These are annoying and distracting problems, some of which may only exist for the comic fans but I’m sure will leave many non-fanboys scratching their head, or in the case of this scene, laughing.
~ Sean, From The Couch

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On the other hand, his need to add somewhat awkward sex scenes, just for the sake of having sex, adds nothing to the film’s tone. I will admit, however, playing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” during a scene where two characters finally have sex for the first time is ingenious.
~ Jay Brissenden, The Nevada Sagebrush

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The first, and the single worst scene of the entire movie, was the almost completely passion-free love scene between Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Specter II (Malin Ackerman.) Given the amount of skin it shows (and yes, as the Comedian might say, it certainly does prove in Ms. Ackerman’s case that those are some good genes), it’s a curiously joyless affair, made all the worse by the attachment of a version of Leonard Cohen’s great song “Hallelujah” to it. Just an all-around travesty.
~ Keith Demko, Reel Fanatic

I actually thought it was a poignant moment. The silence with the ringing of Hallelujah going on in the background underscored both everything going on in the movie and everything going on in within the characters. Perhaps that’s more an observation borne of an intimate knowledge of the comic, but I thought it worked very well in the movie. It serves as an example how two people can walk away from the same thing with two different impressions.
~ Cullen, Comment at Reel Fanatic

I live in a rural area – and the movie won’t be here for several more weeks, so, I cannot comment on your review perspective. It is not tangential, actually, that you bring up Allison Crowe (whom I serve as manager). Her CD version of Hallelujah was originally in The Watchmen. Snyder ultimately concluded it’s “too beautiful” for the particular scene – as he explains more fully to Crave Online: “What about the Leonard Cohen song?”
Zack Snyder: “There are two Leonard Cohen’s because there is a Leonard Cohen on the end titles as well. Hallelujah, that love scene, I originally had the Allison Crowe version of that song, a version I’ve always loved, but in the end was just too romantic. Everybody thought that I meant it. They thought the love scene was serious, not that it isn’t serious but her version was too sexy. So I was like yeah, I’ve got to go back to the Leonard Cohen. For me it is incredibly ironic, even with that version of the song it is incredibly ironic. I don’t care what version of Hallelujah is on, that love scene it is ridiculous, but in a great way. With Leonard Cohen it is like you can’t miss it now, can you? I’m sure some people will but that is fine.”
~ Adrian, Comment at Reel Fanatic

As to the love scene aboard Archimedes, I think it was not only the worst scene in the movie, but should’ve been left on the cutting room floor or reshot entirely. I think it was made all the worse by the choice of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Mind you, I love the song, but it simply did not fit here at all!
~ Mercurie, Comment at Reel Fanatic

Allison Crowe garners a couple of fans

Thanks for clearing that up, Adrian … I think the scene would have been improved with Ms. Crowe’s version of the song, which is indeed just a beautiful interpretation, but it was still just way too silly to work on screen for me.
~ Keith Demko, Comment at Reel Fanatic

Now that I’ve listened to the other song…it would have been great if they used that song. The one used in the movie was just too grand, you start picturing Gerard Butler slaughter tons of soldiers instead of smooth naked butts. That wasn’t a good song for the scene. It took me out of the movie…and have to work my way back in after that. Maybe for the DVD version, they can change the song. It would certainly make that love scene more meaningful instead of gratuitous.
~ Shoshanam Comment at Reel Fanatic

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Response Most Likely To Start A Crusade

Use Of Old ‘Hallejullah’ In Movie A Sacreligious Mistake [Title]

Although most of my thoughts about the movie are uninteresting and vague, one particular gripe stands out: the song selection for the sex scene. I am not alone in this complaint, either. Many reviewers, including The Daily Cardinal’s own Danny Gottlieb, agree that Zach Snyder & Co. would be hard pressed to find a more cliché, awkward or disappointing choice than Leonard Cohen’s original recording of “Hallelujah.”  first exposure to “Hallelujah” was Rufus Wainwright’s recording from the “Shrek” soundtrack. Rufus’ version is no longer my favorite, but the hypnotic power of the music and the majestic, broken lyrics captured me the instant I heard the song. After listening to the song on repeat for almost an hour, I found the nearest piano and sat down with my Walkman until I could play the song myself. I felt compelled to make this song mine. I needed to feel the music coming from me.  … [Goes on to discuss the multitudes of covers of Hallelujah] …

The endless list of covers was even the subject of a BBC Radio Documentary, “The Fourth, The Fifth, The Minor Fall.” The documentary, perhaps in light of the lyrics’ heavy dependence on religious language and imagery, suggested that “Hallelujah” be treated not as a pop hit, but rather as a modern-day hymn. The simple musical structure, the powerful lyrics, even the lack of a definitive popular version, all work to create the same personal and communal dichotomy common to liturgical music. Personal memories echo the theme of problems in relationships, but the universality of relationship problems remind us that we aren’t alone in our brokenness. Being reminded of this in the movie, in recording, and in concert makes “Hallelujah” more than a hit, more than a cover, perhaps even more than just a song.

Maybe that is why its placement in “Watchmen” was so frustrating. “Hallelujah” is not a bad song. It wasn’t that Cohen’s version is bad, although few would place it atop the list of versions. It isn’t even the problem of overusing a great work of art, like Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” or Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Something about the usage was too obvious, too clichéd. It pinched the same nerve that the mad lib-tastic “Across The Universe” stepped on for two hours. It made me angry. This music, this art, needs to be protected from these commercializing, trivializing bastards. This song deserves a subtle, careful setting, where the qualities specific to each performance can be sampled and appreciated.

But perhaps that is the unfortunate corollary to the communal nature of art. Not only can anyone make something beautiful, anyone can make something beautiful crass.
~ Dale Mundt, The Daily Cardinal

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Yet another version of “Hallelujah” enters the fray

Then I knew how I shouldn’t take this very serious film seriously, when Handel’s “Hallelujah” played while two super heroes cavort. All visual sophistication went down the drain in a very tasteless, tacky scene.
~ Lilit Reyes,  Spring Roll

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From the hard core Cohen contingent at LeonardCohenForum, AKA my people

The high-point of the movie for me was Leonard’s version of Hallelujah being used during the only extended sex scene. It has always amazed me how many people miss “half the perfect world” of this song – the sensual half. It doesn’t help that so many of the covers leave out a key verse (I remember when I moved in you… …and every breath we drew was hallelujah), and also seem to avoid the sexual aspects of the song altogether. KD Lang’s version strikes me as an especially vivid example of this “only half of hallelujah” phenomenon. She sings it wonderfully and with tremendous emotion, but there isn’t even the barest hint that she understands that this song is about the spiritual and the sexual worlds – it seems purely spiritual to her.  it was very refreshing to see Leonard’s own version (quite shortened), used during a the sex-scene. Unfortunately, the sex scene itself wasn’t really all that great. It was far too “clinical” for me. It just seemed to lack passion.
~ panjandrum, LeonardCohenForum

Has anyone else seen Watchmen? I am conflicted about the usage of Cohen’s songs in the film. I won’t give anything away, I just want to know if I’m alone in feeling that the coinciding scenes cheapened his work. It just didn’t work for me.
~ piñata heart, LeonardCohenForum

To use Cohen’s music for this scene truly is ironic. And if that was Snyder’s objective, which he confirms is the case, then hooray for him. But to a fan like me, it just turns the tune into a cheap joke. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a pie in the face as much as the next guy, but Cohen’s music is truth. Don’t try to paint your own picture with the artist’s brushes.
~ piñata heart, LeonardCohenForum

As for Hallelujah, if Snyder meant, as I suspect he did, to refer to the song’s (and Cohen’s) philosophy that a flawed human epiphany is wholly acceptable and perhaps the best we can achieve (Forget your perfect offering) then I think it was a perfectly justifiable choice. Whether this connection works, however, for people who don’t know the song well, I’m not so sure.
~ david birkett, LeonardCohenForum

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The most absurd scene in the film, though, is the sex scene involving Dan and Laurie on Dreiberg’s owl ship to the strains of the grossly overused Leonard Cohen anthem “Hallelujah.” A better sound track choice may not have improved the sex, but it would have been something.
~ Charlie Myers, North Coast Journal

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A terrible sex scene in the Watchmen movie has people talking. Zach Snyder, visionary director, made an unintentionally hilarious and awkward sex scene in the middle of the movie, weirdly set to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. I’m just glad I’m not alone in my disdain, because I really have so little else left to live for at this point.
~ Scott Lamb, BuzzFeed

The ensuring comments at BuzzFeed provide a nicely encapsulated version of the Watchmen/Hallelujah debate in general, both in terms of content and passion

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The Chicago Sun-Times’ Richard Ebert complains about the length of the film; it runs for more than two hours. I do not. The film has all these amazing actors who do not look like superheroes, but more like intrepid men and women representing our depressions and angst. Then I get to listen to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” being played to a lovemaking scene, and to Billie Holiday’s “You’re My Thrill,” poignant and always touching in the background.
~  Tito Genova Valiente, Business Mirror

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“Watchmen” seems to be trying to convince its audience they ought to care about its plot and characters because the Cold War happened, dammit, and as a nation on the receiving end of comic book mythology they should appreciate that fact. But any movie that opens with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin,” accompanies a sex scene mid-way through with Leonard Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah” and closes with the My Chemical Romance cover of “Desolation Row” has a lot more explaining to do than simply pointing to paranoia of nuclear war.
~ Cody Shepherd, The Spectator

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Prize winning entry: Most Economical Response

I thought “Hallelujah” was just silly.
Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger

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WATCHMEN also hears vigilantism as its own counter-culture, while the smoky, if romantic fatalism of their banned actions takes on film noir form with Billie Holiday’s “You’re My Thrill,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Nina Simone’s “Pirate Jenny.”
~ Daniel Schweiger, Film Music Magazine

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The soundtrack can’t make up its mind if it is sincere or ironic, veering from Nena Hagen’s “99 Red Balloons” to Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” and into the much-overused Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
~ Amy Muldoon, Socialist Worker

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Aside from certain atrocious aesthetic choices (Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” will ring a bell with anyone who has seen it), the film’s major flaw is in its failure to approximate the book’s visual style.~ Anders Nelson, JustPressPlay

Nelson goes on to suggest that Robert Altman should have been the director of Watchmen. Coincidentally, Altman was responsible for the first use of Leonard Cohen’s music in an important non-documentary, commercial film, McCabe and Mrs. Miller. (See IMDb page for McCabe & Mrs. Miller)

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I admire Zack Snyder for trying, it looks good, but I just wasn’t satisfied. I want to defend the music choice, some people criticize it for being too silly or inappropriate, but it’s culturally relevant. The story is an 80s culture! Musing, style, cars, clothes, slang has to be 80s, and most of it was. Which brings me to my next point. The music worked, even Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” worked in its scene.
~ Unknown, Heroes In Society

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But I could have done without some of Dr. Manhattan’s psuedo-philosophical mutterings (when he proclaimed his newfound belief in miracles, I wanted to gag), and the almost-parodic sex scene between The Night Owl and Silk Spectre, set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” This is a song that just doesn’t belong in a comic book movie. Or maybe any movie.
~ Sara Foss, Daily Gazette

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  1. The explanation that follows is lifted from my previous post, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah – Mood Music For Watchmen SuperHeroic Sex Scene []
  2. To keep matters in perspective, the movie is rated “R” rather than “X.” Still, the sex scene is routinely reported as graphic. []
  3. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that  the idea behind the  first of these postings was to recycle Internet references to Watchmen and “Hallelujah” found  during an email exchange with Adrian du Plessis, AKA Allison Crowe’s manager, loosely based on the hypothetical, “What if the movie soundtrack used Allison’s version of ‘Hallelujah,’ as originally planned?” I should also note that some folks have contended that I have, on occasion, appeared to enjoy Mr. Cohen’s music as well. []
  4. Like A Tweet On A Wire is located on the  LeonardCohenSearch website []
  5. Leonard Cohen News Topics is located on the  LeonardCohenSearch website []

0 Responses to Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah As Watchmen Sex Scene Soundtrack – Debate Continues

  1. I’m really glad that the Leonard Cohen version was used. I had actually never heard the song before (I’m 23), but found it great on so many levels. If another version had been used, it wouldn’t be the same. The Allison Crowe version is too airy.

    Before I saw the movie, I read the graphic novel and knew what to expect. I think that people who are complaining about various aspects of the sex scene haven’t read the novel.

    It’s very interesting that people aren’t saying anything about some guy getting an axe to his head, but rather they are buzzing about Dr. Manhattan’s attire (or lack thereof) and the sex scene.

    I have no sympathy for people who take their underage kids to a rated R movie and get an eye full. This movie is great as-is and I don’t think the soundtrack or content should have been altered.

  2. Like it or loathe it, its inescapable. Like the Zen parable of the monk caught on a cliff between tigers above and below discovering the flavour of a wild strawberry.

    The Allison Crowe version may be one of the most beautiful renditions I have heard of this piece — but it becomes a woman’s interpretation and experience. Cohen’s seems more gender neutral, (besides the obviously male experience of moving inside someone else), but in some way, like appreciating the sublimity of the wild strawberry, the great beauty possible inside this horribly mangled landscape. An intriguing combination of what you find when you drill down to the bottom of despair, longing, surrender, inevitability. No wonder sex is also le petit mort. In an odd way it circularizes to the heritage and conception of Laurie Juspeczyk.