Topanga Canyon, California, a wilderness refuge nestled in the mountains just behind Malibu, has long been a mecca for many of the world’s top musical performers. Discovered in the ‘50s and ‘60s by folksingers like Woody Guthrie and Joni Mitchell, Topanga in the ‘70s became a haven for the likes of Billy Preston, Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite (Canned Heat), Lowell George (Little Feet), Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Fred Tackett (The Band), Gary Farr (Gary and the T-Bones) and Spanky McFarlane (Spanky and Our Gang). These noted musicians, weary from the rigors of constant touring, raised their families and bonded with the nonconformists and eccentrics living in this laid-back community a 'stoners' throw from Los Angeles.
Topanga’s bohemian lifestyle may have attracted the off-beat and anti-establishment, but they could be counted on to come together for the community, raising funds through their music and art to help neighbors fallen victim to the wildfires and floods that ravaged the canyon.
Filmmakers (and canyon residents) Alexander and Anne Christine Von Wetter filmed this documentary for German Television in the early 1970s as a revealing close-up of an extraordinary period in America. The camera masters and 16mm negative were consequently lost to a devastating fire. Luckily, a lone VHS copy had been made, which spent the next 30 years on the studio shelf. When we discovered the actual VHS it was heavily damaged, but our restoration team in New York managed to salvage a fair grade of quality, which has since been recently remastered.
It is the story of a singular culture, told through interviews, musical celebrations, and theatrics from members of the magical ‘Theatricum Botanicum’, a natural amphitheater created in 1973 by popular actor and social activist Will Geer (The Waltons) and his wife Herta Ware (Cocoon). To this day, their cultural open-air venue defines the artistic nature of Topanga. Herta is interviewed here, along with residents Dean Stockwell (Dune, Blue Velvet) and Russ Tamblyn (West Side Story, Twin Peaks).
They all lived in '70s Topanga and were recorded on camera, the results vibrant and alive yet bittersweet, as so many have stepped out of that picture. They will be remembered through their music and this haunting film, as they played together . . . “In Hollywood’s Backyard”.
Academic Purchase “In Hollywood’s Backyard” $250 (includes classroom screening and closed-campus streaming)