"Troubadours: Carole King / James Taylor & the Rise of the Singer-Songwriter." (Keystone, Getty Images/PBS )
Watching the warmly nostalgic "Troubadours" is like going to a reunion of old friends. You're so happy to see them again that you are willing to forgive whatever lapses and flaws there are in the experience.
The old friends in "Troubadours" are the singer-songwriters who flourished roughly between 1968 and 1975, people like Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson and Bonnie Raitt. It was a time when, says Carole King, "there was a hunger for the intimacy, the personal thing we all did," a moment when, says James Taylor, "the authenticity of telling your own story" mattered a great deal.
The title "Troubadours" also refers to Doug Weston's Troubadour, the club on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood that was the epicenter of the movement, the place that started the careers of performers as varied as Jackson Browne and Elton John, not to mention comedy acts like Steve Martin and Cheech and Chong.
A 2007 concert that reunited King and Taylor to mark the venue's 50th anniversary serves as one of the many focuses of this film, directed by Morgan Neville.
Neville is an experienced hand with several fine films to his credit, including "The Cool School," about the L.A. art scene, and "Hitmakers: The Teens That Stole Pop Music," which focuses on King's early songwriting days as one of the stalwarts of Manhattan's Brill Building.
This film, however, sometimes seems at times overwhelmed by all the bases it tries to touch.
"Troubadours" spends so much time with King and Taylor, for instance — interviewing them extensively, showing contemporary performance footage and old home movies — that it plays like linked mini-biographies of the pair.
But a certain amount of attention is also paid to the numerous other artists who played the Troubadour. While Martin, John and Browne (who does a great Bob Dylan imitation) are interviewed on camera, Mitchell appears only in a vintage clip singing "California."
The film also tries to fill us in on the clubby vibe of the Troubadour itself as well as briefly exploring the personality of Weston, the eccentric presence who founded and ran the club, but since Weston died in 1999 there is precious little footage to go with.
All these jostling points of reference give "Troubadours" a disjointed quality, and how forgiving you feel about that will be directly related to how strongly you feel about the wonderful music that comes off the screen. For with songs like "You Can Close Your Eyes," "You've Got a Friend" and numerous others on the soundtrack, this is finally a film hard not to enjoy.