Film Review: ‘Echo in the Canyon’

A richly evocative and entertainingly anecdotal overview of the 1960s Laurel Canyon music scene and its influence on contemporary artists.

Andrew Slater
Jakob Dylan, Tom Petty, Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Lou Adler, John Sebastian, Jackson Browne, Fiona Apple, Beck, Regina Spektor, Graham Nash, Cat Power, Michelle Phillips, Norah Jones, Jade Castrinos.
Release Date:
May 24, 2019

Rated PG-13  1 hour 22 minutes

Arguably the most sturdily crafted and entertainingly anecdotal documentary of its kind since Denny Tedesco’s “The Wrecking Crew,” a similarly nostalgic celebration of artists who generously contributed to the soundtrack of the baby boomer generation, Andrew Slater’s “Echo in the Canyon” offers a richly evocative and star-studded overview of the 1960s Laurel Canyon music scene.

Audiences old enough to have many of the epochal LPs referenced here stashed in their closets will know they’re in good hands right from the start, as the iconic first chords of the Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!” resound during the darkness of the film’s opening moments. But wait, there’s more: The songs of Buffalo Springfield, the Mamas and the Papas, the Beach Boys and other L.A.-based hitmakers of the era are also featured in a doc that shows how music that defined the California Sound of a half-century ago continues to inspire and influence contemporary artists. It’s a package that not only will delight viewers of a certain age but also folks who weren’t introduced to the songs until decades after the fact.

The movie marks the directorial debut for Slater, a former journalist and music industry veteran who collaborated with Jakob Dylan on a 2015 tribute concert in Los Angeles that showcased Dylan and other artists of his generation — including Fiona Apple, Beck, Cat Power, Norah Jones and Jade Castrinos — performing songs recorded more than 50 years earlier by the aforementioned legendary artists. While “Echo in the Canyon” features highlights from that concert, it devotes most of its running time to interviews Dylan conducted before and after the live event with Roger McGuinn and David Crosby of the Byrds; music producer Lou Adler; Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas; Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys; Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield; and other primary sources from the era (including Ringo Starr, John Sebastian and Eric Clapton).

Focused primarily on a period from 1965, when the Byrds topped the charts with their version of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” to 1967, just prior to the advent of psychedelia, when Buffalo Springfield released their ineffably haunting “Expecting to Fly,” Slater’s documentary recalls a heady time when folk music went electric; bold innovators and play-it-safers vied for attention on “American Bandstand” and “The Ed Sullivan Show”; and British sensations like the Beatles and Cream cross-pollinated with Los Angeles bands like the Byrds and the Beach Boys.

Tales are told, memories are rekindled, and admiration is expressed. McGuinn amusingly recalls a point in his solo-artist salad days when he tried, and failed, to make club audiences in New York and L.A. accept his cheeky folkie cover of the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” — the type of musical hybrid that, not long after, would be typical of his early efforts with the Byrds. Phillips candidly admits that John Phillips, her then-husband and Mamas and Papas bandmate, wrote “Go Where You Wanna Go” for the group in response to her adulterous affairs.

Tom Petty, in one of his last recorded interviews before his death in 2017, talks of being drawn to L.A. from Florida after listing to music of the ‘60s folk-rock era, and insists that he “cannot see something in Mozart” that tops the best of Brian Wilson.

Wilson himself appears on camera to describe how the Beatles’ groundbreaking 1965 album “Rubber Soul” influenced the Beach Boys’ 1966 “Pet Sounds” — which in turn influenced the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967). “Echo in the Canyon” describes several such instances of mutual inspiration among the ’60s artists who gravitated toward L.A.’s Laurel Canyon district, an area where even struggling artists could find affordable lodging — and supportive peers who might share drugs and/or sleeping partners — while building careers. It’s left almost entirely up to the unapologetically blunt-spoken David Crosby to suggest that sometimes, jealousy reared its head: He freely admits that when Buffalo Springfield signed on (briefly) as the opening act while he was with the Byrds, he feared they might steal the spotlight.

The playlist for Slater’s documentary is so chockablock with great songs that it may seem churlish to complain about the lack of this golden-oldie or that one. Nevertheless, it does seem more than a trifle odd that what might seem like a natural for inclusion — John Phillips’ “Twelve-Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)” — is absent. Could that be due to the song’s implied criticism that there was a downside to the period this movie romanticizes?

And speaking of romanticizing: At several points in “Echo in the Canyon” — even during a snippet of the 2015 concert — Slater attempts to conjure the mid-‘60s zeitgeist with clips from the late-‘60s “Model Shop,” French filmmaker Jacques Demy’s L.A.-set drama of an about-to-be-drafted architect (Gary Lockwood) and his close encounter with a financially strapped French beauty (Anouk Aimee) who poses for cheesecake photos to raise money for her ticket back to Paris. Anyone who remembers (or tracks down) “Model Shop” will note that any 15 minutes of that movie contains more references to the Vietnam War than can be found in all of Slater’s largely apolitical documentary.

On the other hand, “Echo in the Canyon” maybe be arriving at precisely the right time to offer a different sort of history lesson: Seeing it might be useful period prep for under-35 audiences before they tackle Quentin Tarantino’s 1969-set “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Film Review: ‘Echo in the Canyon’

Reviewed online, Houston, May 20, 2019. (In Los Angeles Film Festival.) MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 82 MIN.

Production: A Greenwich Entertainment release of a Mirror Films presentation in association with BMG of a Slaterhouse Five production. Producers: Andrew Slater, Eric Barrett. Executive producers: Jakob Dylan, Daniel Braun, Zach Katz, Kath Daum.

Crew: Director: Andrew Slater. Screenplay: Andrew Slater, Eric Barrett. Camera (color): Pat Darrin, Kyle Kibbe, Brett Turnbull, Vance Burberry, Garry Waller, Mark Williams. Editors: Jeremy Rhodes, Mike Nichols, Kevin Klauber, Daniel J. Clark, Chris Bredesen.

Cast: Jakob Dylan, Tom Petty, Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Lou Adler, John Sebastian, Jackson Browne, Fiona Apple, Beck, Regina Spektor, Graham Nash, Cat Power, Michelle Phillips, Norah Jones, Jade Castrinos.

More Music

  • Selena Gomez Releases New Single, Leaves

    Selena Gomez Lets the World In on a Rough Romance With 'Lose You to Love Me' (Watch)

    Ever since she released “The Heart Wants What It Wants,” which served as a half-humbled, half-defiant apologia about her relationship with Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez has managed to otherwise successfully avoid the subject, at least in song, of the troubled coupling that fascinated so much of the world. Five years later, she’s returned to the [...]

  • Cardi B

    Cardi B Joins Vin Diesel in 'Fast & Furious 9'

    Cardi B has joined the cast of Universal’s “Fast & Furious 9” in an undisclosed role. It’s the rapper’s first movie part since her role as the stripper Diamond in STX’s drama “Hustlers.” Vin Diesel disclosed the casting Tuesday in a post on his Instagram account with a video that showed him and Cardi B [...]

  • Mountaintop

    Film Review: Neil Young's 'Mountaintop'

    If you ever wished you could be a fly on the wall at a Neil Young recording session, his new film “Mountaintop” may put that desire to the test. Or at least it’ll severely try the patience of any unsuspecting dates who get dragged along by Young fanatics to the movie’s one night in North [...]

  • Michael MannLACMA: Art and Film Gala,

    TV News Roundup: Michael Mann to Direct and Executive Produce HBO Max's 'Tokyo Vice'

    In today’s TV news roundup, HBO Max names MIchael Mann as a director and executive producer of “Tokyo Vice” and Chip and Joanna Gaines announce the first original series coming to the couple’s Magnolia Network. DATES Netflix announced a six-episode docuseries centered on Nasty Cherry, the latest all-female group signed to Charli XCX’s label will [...]

  • Universal Screens 'Bride of Frankenstein,' Releases

    Universal Screens 'Bride of Frankenstein,' Releases Franz Waxman Score for First Time

    Halloween is only days away, and what better way to celebrate than with a classic monster movie that’s been fully restored and whose original score has, 84 years later, finally been issued as a soundtrack album? Universal screened its 1935 “Bride of Frankenstein” Monday night to an appreciative audience on the studio lot, following a [...]

  • Lizzo performs on stage at The

    Watch Lizzo Dance With 'Home Alone' Star Macaulay Culkin at L.A. Concert

    Macaulay Culkin (“Home Alone”) is a serious Lizzo fan, and he’s not afraid to demonstrate his love for the fast-rising singer in front of a packed audience, even if it requires busting a move. Culkin showed up to Lizzo’s Los Angeles concert Monday night, inspiring the audience to start chanting, “I don’t really need you, [...]

  • It Is 'Unlikely’ That PledgeMusic Artists

    It Is 'Unlikely’ That PledgeMusic Artists and Creditors Will Be Paid, Receiver Says

    PledgeMusic, the direct-to-fan marketplace that went out of business earlier this year, was more than $7.4 million in debt when it entered liquidation, and its receiver says it is “unlikely” that artists and others owed money by the company will be paid, according to a report from the bank-appointed receiver. “I do not anticipate that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content