Suitcases, Trains, & The Pied Piper of Hamelin – Insights From Dominique Issermann About Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan” Video

Interviewer: You have made clips for … “First We Take Manhattan” …

Dominique Issermann: [Leonard Cohen] had asked me. I first tried to understand what this last song was saying – “First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin” – and I imagined this guy, a kind of charismatic leader who could lure the crowds, as the Pied Piper of Hamelin. This clip is a bit like that: he draws them after him, everyone drops their suitcases. In the end, he leaves them on the beach and these people go to nowhere, without anything.

Interviewer: There are also pictures of a train …

Dominique Issermann: Do you think of the trains that deported the Jews? I do not have a lot of Jewish culture, unlike Leonard who was raised in the Hebrew religion, but we did not talk about this train story at all. I was looking for ideas. But in Trouville there is a train. I like the station platforms, and I wanted the girl to be on a train at some point. All this is very spontaneous, they are layers of images that are superimposed. But that surely makes sense …

Interviewer: The train, the suitcases, the beach, these characters in cloaks with just a suitcase going to nothingness: you could not avoid thinking about the deportation …

Dominique Issermann: You’re absolutely right: that’s what I thought, but I did not know it … When, at the beginning of the shoot, Leonard asked me, “What are we going to do?”, I told him replied, laughing: “Don’t worry, it’s a Jewish program, we’ll take you from Berlin and you’ll go to Manhattan, and we’ll go the other way!” But strangely I never thought precisely: well, we’ll show trains and suitcases. The suitcase is very present in my universe. I did a lot of pictures with people who carry them. Okay, that’s my legacy. But when people tell me, “Oh yes, you’re half Jewish,” I say, “No, I’m half non-Jewish.” But here, I realize that it is not so simple …

Interviewer: These suitcases also referred to the nomadism of your couple …

Dominique Issermann: Leonard is very attached to suitcases, he has an impressive collection. These are always the ones I bought him a long time ago, and that he still carries around. All brand Globe-Trotter, navy blue or black, cardboard or fiber, old-fashioned suitcases, with straps. He was still on his last tour, completely fucked. He said, “Look, maybe we should buy some more …”

Leonard Cohen – First We Take Manhattan
Promo video: 1988

 

Also See: Then We Take Trouville: Making Of The Leonard Cohen-Dominique Issermann First We Take Manhattan Music Video

From Ma vie avec Leonard Cohen : “Je l’ai entendu travailler deux ans sur ‘Hallelujah’” par François Armanet et Bernard Loupias (L’Obs: Nov 11, 2016). Interview originally published in “Le Nouvel Observateur” of January 26, 2012. Excerpt via computer translation with assistance from Coco Éclair. Images are screenshots from the First We Take Manhattan Video.

I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted July 8, 2018.

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