The fact that this film starts off with Webster’s definition of “echo” is the perfect portend for this hacky, by-the-numbers documentary on well-tread ground.
Jakob Dylan is our meandering, nonplussed guide through a film that’s reportedly about the Los Angeles music scene of the mid-1960’s, but it ends up being only half that, with the other half being Jakob Dylan and his famous music friends self-indulgently performing elaborate 60’s karaoke in front of a crowd of paying customers. For existing fans of this era music, there’s nothing new to be learned. Stories such as Brian Wilson filling his living room with sand and the infidelity of Michelle Phillips are some of the first behind-the-scenes stories fans of this music learn. The braggadocious regaling of sexual escapades and drug use feels so childish (with the exception of David Crosby, who didn’t think the experience behind his threesome-inspired song “Triad” was all that big of a deal, which I appreciated).
For newcomers to this era of admittedly catchy and imaginative music, the dull presentation might scare them away (that is if they haven’t already become sick to death of the music through use in car commercials and grocery store aisles). Interviews are blandly staged, often featuring Jakob Dylan and his interviewees in nice, uninteresting houses on couches with only occasional clips of much more interesting archival footage. Even the clips of the influential music itself are cut-off far too early in favor of uninspired covers performed by Dylan, Beck, Regina Spektor, and others.
The thing is, there are so many examples of great documentaries being made today that exhibit their subject matter in a stylistically interesting way. The docs that come to mind are the film history documentaries made by Mark Hartley: Not Quite Hollywood, Machete Maidens Unleashed!, and Electric Boogaloo: the Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films. These films use animation, clips of the films themselves, behind-the-scenes footage and dynamic staging of posters and other still images that deeply engage the viewer. Even lesser budgeted documentaries such as Man Vs. Snake (about the high score competition of a forgotten 80’s arcade game) deftly uses animation and dramatic staging to create an interesting story with a rise and fall in action. There is nothing of the sort here.
The sad thing about all this is, is that the subject matter is a truly interesting one. How artists influence each other and in what ways are fun stories to follow, and it’s fascinating to contrast and compare examples. One of the things that captured me as a younger record collector in my late teens/early twenties was a chart that my favorite record store had. It broke out the influence that the band Big Star had on other groups, tracking down to other bands and artists and who they in turn influenced with their music. It was exhilarating to dig through all the different records and follow the evolution of a sound. In the context of Echo in the Canyon however, this narrative is reduced to subtext in favor of the rehashed anecdotes and aforementioned Jakob Dylan and Friends 60’s Revue.
If you enjoy the subject matter of this film, I highly encourage you to look elsewhere. Criterion recently released a beautiful and feature rich Blu-Ray of the Monterey Pop Festival that’s definitely worth checking out. If you’re unfamiliar with the great works of 60’s rock and pop, just go on Spotify. I’m pretty sure they’ve already pre-made some decent playlists charting out the area, and you won’t have to listen to Jakob Dylan singing lesser versions of those same songs!
+ You get to hear some clips of Pet Sounds! It’s a great album, check it out instead of this movie
+ The archival footage is fun to watch, however briefly it appears on screen
– Dull, uninteresting presentation
– No new information for most fans
– Too much time spent on Jakob Dylan et al. and their bland, uninspired covers
– Look, do I have to write this review all over again?