Leonard, light my cigarette, is an experimental marriage of poetry, sound sculpture, and fragmented visual narrative that examines the artistic and personal impact of Canada's best-known poet.

This life underground
Is too much, man
My reflection in the window
Falls in and out of grace
And this constant hiss so cool
(Can you believe the heat in here?)

"People of Athens, this man is a danger to our children!
His songs are so glum!
He has some strange, hypnotic power over our women!
He's a gypsy, he's a Jew!"

Leonard, light my cigarette
Light my, light my, light my cigarette
Because you never laid down that cross
You just made carrying it look good
And you never really said so long to Marie-Anne
Our town. Our lady.

And look! The cross still shines on
An X-Mas ornament
On our tinsel tree-top
Souvenir necropolis.

Tell me Leonard, when will we bury our dead?
Not under this sun
That beats on the beat streets and heats
The beat that still beats on.

The heat. Now there's another story.
It's Dorval, 1988. The hottest Summer yet.
And the Prince of Darkness stands there
In black pants, black jacket, and a black, wool turtleneck sweater
He still takes the heat.

Leonard. light my cigarette!
Leonard, light my cigarette!
Leonard, light my cigarette!
For all the punks and the drunks and the beautiful losers!
Leonard. light my cigarette!
For all the pretty women who sing out their souls for you!
Leonard, light my cigarette!
Light it from Reijkavik to Oslo and everywhere the hot sun
Beats down on this cruel, cool world!

(Copyright © by Tony Babinski. Used by permission.)

Hear the song in MP3

The film addresses three major themes or conceits and it does so on the level of text and spoken word (poetry, graphics) as well as on the level of sub-text (music, sound sculpture, editing structure, and colour scheme). These themes are;

1) the poet/performer Leonard Cohen as cultural pop icon and artist.

2) the survival of poetry as it moves off the page into comprehensive interdisciplinary art.

3) the effects of the past on the present.

On the level of text, it is a poem, one that is spoken, but also read on numerous iconographic images that appear throughout the film. These graphics take the form of 1960's "pop" style commercial art. At times, characters within the film appear to recite parts of the poem but with the voice of the principle narrator. Other times, their own voices are be foremost.

Accompanying the recitation is a complex music track that alternately pays homage to the Cohen musical oeuvre, and undermines it by a process of comic deconstruction. The music is counter-pointed by a complex voice/sound montage built upon the common Montreal expression, "Everyone has a Leonard Cohen story".

Visually the film addresses notions of past and present and the effects of one on the other. It achieves this through an exact colour strategy based on the use of two radically distinct colour film stocks. Those parts of the film dealing with the past and memory were shot on Eastman Kodak Ektachrome VNF 7240 - this is a reversal stock that has a soft, low contrast, pastel-like palette and refers in character and quality to faded magazine advertisements.

These images are counter-pointed with those shot on Eastman Kodak Kodachrome 40.During the filming judicious use of additive colour gels pushed the already excellent colour saturation inherent in the Kodachrome film even further. The result are scenes and images that have a hyper-real quality. This strategy forms a perceptible colour code designed to affect the viewer and test current NTSC broadcast standards for transmission.

The film aired on Bravo! in 1996 and was entered in numerous festivals around the world. It was refused by most but did win a merit award in Houston, and recently it has taken second prize for best experimental film at the Central Florida Film festival! Another film by the same team, Spotting Layton got an honourable mention, and both will be broadcast in Florida on a program covering the festival winners. Also the film has been accepted for competition at the Brno Film Festival in Brno, Czech Republic and the Siena Short film Festival in Italy. It has taken second place at the Canadian International Annual Film and Video Festival in Campbell River, British Columbia. The actual festival takes place on November 27,28,29th, 1997, in Campbell River, B.C. and is celebrating its twenty-eight consecutive year. Now the film also has been accepted into competition at the Sao Paulo film Festival October 17 to 31

Leonard, Light My Cigarette, a film by J. Jacob Potashnik. Poetry and music by Tony Babinski (also starring Darkman). Produced by Jacob Potashnik and Tony Babinski for mtl/ART, in association with Bravo!Fact, a foundation to assist Canadian talent, supported by Bravo Network. Running time 6:22 minutes. Canada, 1996.

"You must understand that the film is a love letter to one man and as such the lexicon is perhaps a bit obscure to those not from the same milieu. Leonard Cohen saw the film in October 1996 and pronounced it "...brilliant...excellent..."

The imagery was very familiar to Leonard - he called me after viewing it to tell me how much he liked it - liked it is a mild word - but I don't want to sound immodest. Our conversation was short but you can imagine my joy. He mentioned Beautiful Losers and his desire to see it made as a feature film. Look for more news about that in the very near future.

Meanwhile, sit back, unhook yourself and take another look at the film... show it to friends. We had an enormous amount of fun making it." - Thanks to the producers for the introduction, these comments, and a copy of the film! For more information, write to mtl/ART, 5221 Hingston, Montreal, Quebece, H3X 1R5, Canada.

Order a VHS copy of the film or the soundtrack CD from the website of mtl/Art or write to Tony Babinski.

Leonard and Tony Babinski in Montreal (August 2001)
Photo © Jacob Potashnik. Used with permission.