(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Echo in the Canyon
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas, Buffalo Springfield, and several other bands who are associated with the “California Sound” of folk rock all lived within a few miles of each other in the 1960s, and The Wallflowers front man Jakob Dylan (Bob Dylan’s son) interviews tons of people – including many surviving members of those bands – about that explosively creative period in music history.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: I didn’t grow up listening to folk rock in any sort of concentrated way, but having just rewatched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and being immersed in Quentin Tarantino’s vision of Los Angeles in 1969, I thought it might be fun to step a bit further back in time to get a crash course in that music scene. Echo in the Canyon delivers exactly that, with the documentary doling out anecdotes not only from the artists who were influenced by the music coming out of L.A.’s Laurel Canyon in that era, but by those who actually created many of those iconic songs and albums.
To me, that cross-pollination was actually the coolest part of this documentary: all of these people would just grab a guitar and wander over to one another’s houses, building on their own ideas and incorporating others into their songs. We see people like Ringo Starr and Brian Wilson explain how The Beatles and The Beach Boys were huge influences on each other; how each band raised the bar and inspired the other to reach new heights. For this hyper-specific period in the 1960s, a small area of Los Angeles served as the creative nexus for an entire movement.
While Jakob Dylan is ostensibly the host of the doc, he rarely participates in the discussions on camera: wisely, director Andrew Slater cuts around his questions and focuses primarily on the answers of people like Tom Petty, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, and more, giving the audience what essentially boils down to an oral history of this musical time period. Dylan and more modern colleagues like Norah Jones, Regina Spektor, and Beck sing covers of several classic folk rock songs at a concert that’s intercut with these interviews; the performances are all solid, but I wish the movie would have just focused on the talking heads and released the modern covers as bonus footage or something. (Still, I can see a case being made for their inclusion, with the justification being that hearing the staying power of these songs all these years after they were written increases their legendary status.)
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in this period of American music culture and learn about the creation of some of the era’s most recognizable songs and albums (like The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds), Echo in the Canyon is a nice way to spend 82 minutes.
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