At certain points in history, particular locations in particular times have become centers for artists to create influential and lasting works. Italy in the Renaissance, Harlem in the 1920s and Paris in the 1930s have been among such places, and so was Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon area from the mid 1960s into the ’70s. The mountainous neighborhood/canyon nestled in the Hollywood Hills was a hub for the counterculture of that time and attracted an amazing array of creative musical talents who inspired each other, fostered each other’s work and went on, individually and in groups, to make songs of lasting importance and enjoyment.
Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, the Doors and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — these are just a few of the iconic names to have been influenced directly or indirectly by the highly creative musical epicenter that Laurel Canyon became for a brief time about half a century ago.
In her two-part docuseries Laurel Canyon, director Alison Ellwood (History of the Eagles) chronicles these and other personalities, and their famous songs, who sprung from this relatively small section of L.A. The film is wistfully subtitled A Place in Time, lending a sense to how ephemeral a special moment and locale like that can be. Befitting that, Ellwood’s series also tries to put a finger on just how and why Laurel Canyon temporarily became, as musician Graham Nash describes it at one point, a “beautiful bubble of creativity and friendship and sunshine and sex and drugs and music.”
Ellwood effectively captures that “place in time” not only through voice-overs of people like Nash who were there (as well as voice-overs featuring past comments from artists who have passed on, such as Cass Elliot), but also through a nonstop soundtrack of tunes that had their origins in Laurel Canyon, and with stunningly restored film footage and photos.
Many of the featured photos were taken by legendary rock photographer Henry Diltz, and he and fellow photographer Nurit Wilde are among the only interviewees featured on-camera. While they offer great insights into Laurel Canyon through their words, their amazing photos of that place in time speak even more loudly, comprising much of the docuseries and colorfully helping to fully immerse the viewer in a locale that comedian/musician Steve Martin recalls in a voice-over as feeling “exclusive, but not exclusive to wealth — exclusive to spirit.”
Laurel Canyon, Sunday, May 31 (Part 1), and Sunday, June 7 (Part 2), at 9pm ET on EPIX.