SXSW 2020: Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time

Bernie Leadon looks out on the lights of Los Angeles from a vantage point in Laurel Canyon. Photo credit: Henry Diltz.

Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time utilizes both interviews and archival footage to tell the definitive story of the Laurel Canyon music scene over two parts.

Echo in the Canyon is just one part of the story.  What documentary filmmaker Alison Ellwood does is tell a story through mixing interviews with archival footage.  The end result is a beautiful documentary.  It isn’t without its sadness given the time period.  The film also serves as a reminder that many of these songs don’t happen without the counterculture of the time.

I grew up on classic rock.  It’s hard to imagine my life without discovering The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY (or CSN), Jackson Browne, The Mamas and The Papas, The Monkees, The Eagles, etc.  The list honestly goes on and on.  This is my kind of music so it’s amazing to watch the history unfold on screen.  The soundtrack is one of the best documentary soundtracks of the year!  When you stop and think about it, Laurel Canyon has been home to so many awesome musicians.  They just happened to be in the right place at the right time when our culture needed them.

Take The Byrds, for instance.  Until they came around, the Troubador in LA was a venue dedicated to folk music.  There was some protesting at first but over time, it became a venue for singer-songwriters and rock music.

Many people tend to associate Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” as being an anti-war song.  However, documentary erases any doubts about the song’s origin by way of interviews with both Richie Furay and Stephen Stills.  The reality is that the song came about as a result of the Sunset Strip curfew riots in 1966.  Stills came home and wrote the song that very night.

Part two of the documentary, which doesn’t air until June, expands on the first part.  There’s a focus on the Sharon Tate murder in 1969.  The murder–among others–hit very close to the music scene.

Meanwhile, just as the Byrds helped bring about a transition, so did The Eagles.  The Eagles were able to take things to the next level especially with an album such as Desperado.  By the 1970s, California country rock would be the dominant genre.

The list of interviews in Laurel Canyon reads like a who’s who of the time period.  If your favorite musician isn’t interviewed, there’s a good chance that they’re featured in photographs or archival footage.

Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time may offer nostalgia for a different time in America but the music remains awesome.

DIRECTOR:  Alison Ellwood
FEATURING:  Henry Diltz, Nurit Wilde, David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Don Henley, Chris Hillman, Graham Nash, Steve Martin, Micky Dolenz

Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time held its world premiere during the 2020 SXSW Film Festival in the 24 Beats Per Second program. Epix will air the two-part documentary starting on May 31, 2020. Grade: 4.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.