Echo In the Canyon

 

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A film that looks back lovingly on American pop music associated with Laurel Canyon.

 
Echo in the Canyon
   

The best way to approach this film is to be aware of how it came to be made. Jakob, the guitarist son of Bob Dylan, is a great admirer of the American bands that flourished in L.A.'s Laurel Canyon in the mid-1960s and for that reason in 2015 he was involved in setting up a very special tribute concert at the city's Orpheum Theatre to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of that golden era in his country's pop music. The event involved admirably handled performances by artists such as Jade, Beck and Regina Spektor of songs made famous by The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Mamas and The Papas and Buffalo Springfield while also touching on the work of The Association. Andrew Slater's film Echo in the Canyon is built around that occasion and, like an album recorded at the time, should be regarded as an extension of that concert. It's a work which also involves substantial comments from many of the original artists and from people such as Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton who admired them.

 

Jakob Dylan is the film's lynchpin since, in addition to his contribution to the 2015 performances, it is he who travels round and speaks to the various musicians. Although they are happy to talk to him, he is more a listener than an interviewer with questions to ask and Echo in the Canyon could be dismissed as an anodyne piece which, despite referring late on to the breaking up of The Byrds, never for a moment wants to dwell on any darker issues (any tales that come up about drug-taking and sexual indulgences are lightly recalled in contrast to, say, the approach adopted in Nick Broomfield's 2019 documentary Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love which looked back not unfondly at Sixties' freedoms on the Greek island of Hydra but also recorded their cost to individual lives).

 

But what all this means is that Echo in the Canyon, combining as it does old footage from the 1960s, personal reminiscences of that time and the music-making in 2015, is offered as an exercise in nostalgia. If you want something deeper, you won't get it here, but it is for the most part enjoyable on its own terms even if some of the comments from various band members and from the British contributors suggest a mutual appreciation society. Sensibly the film looks at each of the four main bands featured in turn, but the one weakness of Echo in the Canyon lies in the fact that after doing that it turns to more generalised talk about the Sixties in the canyon and this becomes rather meandering and extravagant at times (if earlier on Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys are seen as being on the same level as Mozart and J. S. Bach, it is now suggested that Laurel Canyon's artistic moment in the sun was the equal of any previous artistically rich time with comparable freedoms that had manifested itself in Paris or Vienna). More noteworthy for me as an admirer of Jacques Demy is the fact that his underrated American film of 1968, Model Shop, is cited as an inspiration for Dylan's whole project and it is indeed the case that excerpts from it are included in this film. For those unfamiliar with Demy's movie this may add to the sense that this piece is somewhat drifting along in its later stages. But, whatever its shortcomings, Echo in the Canyon will be relished by those who love the music featured in it and share the nostalgia of those who were involved in the making of this film to the same degree.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Jakob Dylan, Stephen Stills, Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Beck, Fiona Apple, Jade, Regina Spektor, Michelle Phillips, David Crosby, John Sebastian, Roger McGuinn, Lou Adler, Jackson Browne, Justine Bennett, Cat Power.

 

Dir Andrew Slater, Pro Andrew Slater and Eric Barrett, Screenplay by Andrew Slater and Eric Barrett, Ph Vance Burberry, Pat Darrin, Kyle Kibbe, Paul Rachman, Brett Turnbull, Garry Waller and Mark Williams, Ed Chris Bredesen, Daniel J. Clark, Kevin Klauber, Mike J. Nichols and Jeremy Rhodes.

 

Mirror Films/BMG/Slaughterhouse Five-Universal Pictures.
83 mins. USA/Germany. 2019. Rel: 8 June 2020. Available on VOD. Cert. 12.