Movie Review: ‘Echo’ and the Dylan man
“Echo in the Canyon” is not one of the greatest-ever documentary films, but it has its charms, especially for contemporary music buffs.
The film depicts the 1965-1967 Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, music scene when singer-songwriters, musicians and groups, including The Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas, Buffalo Springfield (and later, Crosby, Stills and Nash) and others gathered to live, hang out and write one pop-rock music charter-topper after another.
The film is directed by Jakob Dylan, son of singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. The linchpin of the documentary film is a concert that Jakob Dylan put together for himself, Beck, Regina Spektor, Fionna Apple, Jade Castrinos, Cat Power and Norah Jones in the Orpheum Theatre, Los Angeles, in 2015, to perform hit songs and lesser-known songs by singer-songwriters and pop-rock music groups associated with Laurel Canyon.
Jakob Dylan is noted for the rock group, The Wallflowers; the hits, “6th Avenue Heartache” and “One Headlight,” and has received two Grammy Awards.
Jakob Dylan tools around Laurel Canyon, the Sunset Strip and Pacific Coast Highway in a silver 1967 Pontiac Firebird convertible. He and others ruminate about the significance of the songwriting nexus and how it echoed, not only across the winding roads of the canyon, but throughout the pop music and into mass culture.
One of the film’s more interesting points, bolstered by interviews with producer Lou Adler, The Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr and The Beach Boys’ songwriter Brian Wilson, is the influence of The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” record album (1966) on The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967) record album.
The songs, songwriting and the Laurel Canyon scene are discussed by, in addition to the aforementioned interviewees, The Mamas & the Papas’ Michelle Phillips, Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, Buffalo Springfield’s David Crosby and Stephen Stills, the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, The Hollies’ Graham Nash, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, rock star Eric Clapton, and the late Tom Petty, to whom the film is dedicated.
The interviews are insightful and frequently funny, some intentionally so, some inadvertently. It’s a wonder any songwriting or recording got done given the laissez-faire hippie lifestyle of most of the songwriters, singers and musicians.
Jakob Dylan has a nice offhand manner in his way of questioning. If he ever wants to quit his night job, he has a career as a video journalist.
The film is directed by Andrew Slater (his film directorial debut) and written by Slater and Eric Barrett (producer, music videos, and “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” 1988) in a meandering way, not unlike the two-lane road that winds through Laurel Canyon, which isn’t so much a canyon as a succession of hills. The casual style fits the subject matter.
The film is interlaced with performances of hits from the Laurel Canyon songbook performed by Jakob Dylan and friends. Jakob Dylan sings lead vocals on many and manages to Dylanize most of the songs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just his style.
Hearing the revamped versions balanced against snippets of the original recordings makes you realize how great, powerful and Oz-like were the original hits. Archival performance footage of Laurel Canyon-based groups performing their hits back in the day makes the case for greatness even more so.
Among the sole survirors performed by Jakob Dylan and company is The Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” and The Mamas & the Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go.”
Scenes from the remarkable feature film, “Model Shop” (1969), directed by Jacques Demy (“The Young Girls of Rochefort,” 1967; “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” 1964; “Lola,” 1961) and starring Anouk Aimée and Gary Lockwood, are intercut with footage of Jakob Dylan in concert and walking and driving.
Curiously, there are few echoes of Bob Dylan in “Echo in the Canyon.” Bob Dylan’s landmark hit, “Like a Rolling Stone,” released in 1965, reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts. Jakob Dylan didn’t see fit to meander up the Malibu Hills to visit his dear old dad, ask him a few questions and determine how the original folk-rocker fits into the mix. For whatever reason, Jakob Dylan eschews pulling back the curtain to ask The Great Bob any questions. Also missing in action is Joni Mitchell.
That said, “Echo in the Canyon” is a must-see for popular music aficionados, especially those who lived to hear it, want to relive it or learn more about it, and also for those who want to know what a time it was. And, yes, what a time it was.
“Echo in the Canyon,” MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for language and suggested situations; Genre: Run time: 1 hr., 22 min. Distributed by Greenwich Entertainment.
Credit Readers Anonymous: The “Echo in the Canyon” tribute album by Jakob Dylan was released in June.
Box Office, July 12-14: “Spider-Man: Far From Home” continued clinging to No. 1, two weeks in a row, $45.3 million, $274.5 million, two weeks, as “Toy Story 4” continued at No. 2, $20.6 million, $346.3 million, four weeks, keeping “Crawl” crawling to No. 3, $12 million, opening, and “Stuber” ubering to No. 4, $8 million, opening.
5. “Yesterday” dropped two places, $6.7 million, $48.3 million, three weeks. 6. “Aladdin” dropped one place, $5.8 million, $331.4 million, eight weeks. 7. “Annabelle Comes Home” dropped three places, $5.5 million, $60.7 million, three weeks. 8. “Midsommar” dropped two places, $3.5 million, $18.4 million, two weeks. 9. “The Secret Life Of Pets 2” dropped two places, $3.1 million, $147.1 million, six weeks. 10. “Men in Black: International” dropped two places, $2.2 million, $76.4 million, five weeks. 24. “Echo in the Canyon” dropped five places,” $205,563, $2.3 million, eight weeks.
Unreel, July 19:
“The Lion King,” PG: Jon Favreau directs the voice talents of Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen and Chiwetel Ejiofor in the Computer Generated Imagery Animation Musical remake.
“David Crosby: Remember My Name,” R: A.J. Eaton directs David Crosby, Cameron Crowe, Henry Diltz and Graham Nash in the Documentary film about the life and career of Crosby Stills and Nash folk-rock band’s David Crosby.
Two Popcorn Boxes out of Four Popcorn Boxes