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Sundance: Music in ‘Troubadours’ is a time machine to the ’70s

January 26th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

By Max Dahl

PARK CITY–Troubadours is a woven, but liquid documentary that draws from the first-hand experiences of the singer/songwriters involved with the Los Angeles music scene at the dawning of the 1970’s. The documentary explores the spirit and humanity behind the relationship of James Taylor and Carole King, and is entirely driven by the music created by those who played at the Troubadour night club during that time.

The journey is new and yet familiar, introducing you to a time and a place and people that you already know, connected freshly through the Troubadour. Extensive interviews and narratives from Elton John, Steve Martin, Cheech and Chong, Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Kris Kristofferson, Bonny Raitt and those closest to King and Taylor share how the Troubadour gave them their first chance at performing music.

Still images and footage from the era, as well as new interviews nestle you into a very intimate and personal experience. At times, Taylor is playing his most famous songs seated alone with his guitar and you are the only person he’s serenading.

King is insightful throughout and allows the narrative to include her daughter, who gives necessary background for the blossoming of her career, from mother and mechanized song producer at the Brill Building into her own beautiful, natural woman. The viewer is dropped into personal conversations between King and Taylor expressing their gratitude for the Troubadour, and each other.

You are privy to the people, places, culture, and, of course, new and old concert footage. Shots cut between various stars from various decades for both contrasting and complementary dialog. This does more than beckon you into intimate moments in these musicians’ lives, their story becomes part of yours, seared into your conscious by their iconic hits.

“The music is not wallpaper,” said director Morgan Neville, “it is telling the story of the film.”

The song and its placement in the film was as important to the development of the story as the dialog. Live footage of “Fire and Rain” from the 1970 Folk Festival sets the backdrop for the explanation of the new and different decade of music; burnt-out 60’s rockers needed a breath of fresh air, and the Troubadour was playing those acts.

It was the concert in 2007 that Taylor and King played in the Troubadour to celebrate 50 years for the club that inspired the premise of the documentary. Previously unseen vistas behind the music were recalled, with all the dirty details, all the side stories and heartbreaks and bad deals and triumphs first through the Troubadour,and finally over the Troubadour and its owner Doug Weston.

It is almost unfair to the viewer to utilize such emotionally potent songs in the film, but the entire genre was excruciatingly personal that it cannot be avoided. Viewer, take caution: you will feel moved by these songs and stories.

“It was a time when there was no barrier between the artist and the art,” said Steve Martin, who was discovered out of the Troubadour. And in this film, there is no barrier between the artist and you. The music works as the medium through which the viewer’s thoughts and concerns become those of the artist, without any sense of loss or negative sentiment. I felt part of the hip “in crowd” of the 70’s culture for 91 minutes.

“Whether there is a God or gods, or some power,” said King, who played Jan. 23 at the House of Hype on Main Street, “I feel that my music is an instrument of that source.”

According to Neville, plans for the documentary include a widespread release in the Los Angeles area, with DVD release slated for March 2. A soundtrack is also available, including music included in the film.


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  1. One Response to “Sundance: Music in ‘Troubadours’ is a time machine to the ’70s”

  2. By Dave Watson on Jan 27, 2011

    If you want to learn more about “Troubadours” there is the MusicFilmWeb SeeItLoud podcast with director Morgan Neville discussing the film.


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