To hear a score of iconic singers and songwriters speak so highly about what it was like to live and work in Laurel Canyon during the mid-1960s, one might believe they experienced nothing less than paradise. In Echo in the Canyon, first-time director Andrew Slater and musician Jakob Dylan (son of Bob and executive producer), reach out to a number of these folk-rock legends, including Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas and Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield, to talk about why a place like Hollywood Hills was such an enriching environment and why they think their bands — and others — were able to generate some of the most beloved songs of their generation.
Echo in the Canyon is a touching homage to these musicians and the songs they created in what basically became a musical commune. During the film, Slater and Dylan also meet up with their contemporaries (Norah Jones, Eric Clapton, Fiona Apple, Cat Power and the late Tom Petty, among others), to share how the music of that era influenced them and to jam out in living rooms and on stage to songs like the Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” the Byrds’ “It Won’t Be Wrong” and the Association’s “Never My Love.”
Between everyone singing each other’s praises, which registers as a bit self-aggrandizing in some scenes, Dylan — who takes on the role as interviewer — teases out a few interesting anecdotes from his time-honored subjects. Nothing they reveal is earthshattering, but discussions from the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson on how the Beatles’ Rubber Soul inspired him to write Pet Sounds and an acknowledgement from the Byrds’ David Crosby about why he was fired in 1967 from the band he helped form are satisfying. “They threw me out of the Byrds because I was an asshole,” he explains.
Throughout, Dylan manages to get the rock ’n’ rollers to open up to him with personal stories. Other times, the film offers the most devout fans a reason to geek out over narratives about gigs at the famous Troubadour nightclub, which was recently featured in the Elton John biopic Rocketman, and the introduction of the revolutionary 12-string guitar. Phillips even speaks on her past marital indiscretions, which ultimately led her band to write songs like “I Saw Her Again” and “Go Where You Wanna Go.”
While Echo in the Canyon is a crowd-pleasing blast from the past, it probably won’t become the be-all and end-all film on the musical era. However, the captivating archive footage and interviews with the men and women who reinvented the rock genre forever make it must-see (and must-hear) rockumentary, especially for those who consider the music of the ’60s part of their own life’s soundtrack.
Echo in the Canyon opened exclusively at the Santikos Bijou Cinema Bistro June 21.
3 out of 5 stars