Echo In The Canyon: Review. By Betty Widdicombe.
A nostalgic trip to an era, a movement, and a scene that still resounds on popular culture to this day. The credits open with the definition of the word ‘Echo’ – 1. A close parallel or repetition of an idea, feeling, style or event’ – an indication of the attempted documentary format in which we were about to jump into.
An unabashed tribute to the mid-sixties Folk Rock Scene, including a lot of ‘talking heads’, with karaoke type performances from the likes of Jakob Dylan, Beck, Cat Power et al, juxtaposed with aerial and driving shots of LA’s Laurel Canyon – very much an homage to Jacques Demy’s 1969 film ‘Model Shop’ – which is cited by ‘Andrew Slater’ – documentary Director and President of Capitol Records, as the influence of conception and style.
Personally, I wasn’t particularly fond of this documentary. I felt it lacked any real narrative, and if I had not spent so much time in LA in the last two years, I’m not sure I would have had a clue where this was set. The location isn’t even mentioned until at least an hour in.
This documentary felt more as if it was a reminiscence project for music insiders, the celebrities themselves, (boy there were plenty…Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Eric Clapton, Beck and Tom Petty to name but a few), and also hard-core fans of this particular genre of music.
Although it was entertaining to hear some of the juicy bits of gossip from the very candid ‘Michelle Phillips’ from the ‘Mama’s and Papas’, and also to see photographs of Brian Wilson’s home during the creation of ‘Pet Sounds’ sand filled front room, with only a Piano for furniture – one thinks a form of ‘Stanislavski’s method’ for writers perhaps?!! I feel like so much grittier information could have been included. Also, so many major artists from that period were missing…like, what about Joni Mitchell?
Questions I am left with…Why was it such a melting pot? How did the city inspire and produce so much creativity? Yes, we hear that they were heavily influenced by ‘The Beatles’, and by each other, but that is nothing new to learn. A lack of any mention of the political climate at the time seems strange, and why were there no reference towards the Manson murders From my only internal geekery I know that Dennis Wilson was very much associated with that, and yet he is not even mentioned.
The studio shots, and boring performances made this documentary drag on for far too long. Dylan’s son could have just narrated it, Beck looked so uncomfortable throughout, I’m not quite sure why he was there at all. It would have been much more interesting if they added more archive footage.
One thing I will say for this pastiche of celebrity fodder, was that it made me instantly revisit ‘Model Shop’ – every cloud hey.
If you want a depiction of life during that time, I would skip this documentary entirely and go watch ‘Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold’ 2017, ‘Model Shop’ 1969, or even ‘Forrest Gump’ 1994 (which makes great use of the iconic music produced from that era).
Overall, a very dry documentary that is a supposed celebration of such a vibrant, psychedelic creative period in history.
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