Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, Pearl Jam Twenty is a documentary about one of rock music’s most enduring and uncompromising bands of the last 20 years in Pearl Jam. Featuring new interviews the members of the band plus archival footage of their early years, the film travels into the band’s career. From the death of singer Andrew Wood in Mother Love Bone to various events that shaped the band’s career such as their mid-90s battle with Tickemaster and the tragic Roskilde Festival concert in 2000. The result isn’t just a wonderful love-letter from Cameron Crowe to the band but also one of the most engrossing documentaries about one of rock music’s greatest bands.
Documentaries about bands and their career often have a very straightforward narrative that is always about how they form and struggle. Then gain success and go through all of its trappings where they would make a shitty album and break-up and all of that. Fortunately, Pearl Jam was a band that never followed that script and has managed to keep themselves going for 20 years already. Cameron Crowe’s approach to the Pearl Jam story has him going that straightforward narrative but play around with it in order to have the individual band members bring a bit of themselves to the story. While Crowe and Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell are among the few who do interviews outside of the band. They do play part of how they’re part of the band’s story.
The film begins with the story of Mother Love Bone and how they were set to rise only to fall by the death of vocalist Andrew Wood. The band that also featured former Green River members in bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard would then form Pearl Jam with a friend of Gossard in guitarist Mike McCready and later find a vocalist in a young, shy Californian named Eddie Vedder. There, Crowe explores the band’s early years as they did the Temple of the Dogs project with Chris Cornell and Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and then go into the major success of the first album.
Similar to how unconventional Pearl Jam’s story is, the film does take an unconventional approach by focusing the bulk of the film’s first half on those first few years where the band became successful in the span of a few years. Yet, that success proved to be overwhelming as Crowe revealed some rare footage where things started out fun. Then came the infamous press concert to promote the film Singles that Crowe directed and members of the band appeared as the band have very little recollection of that show where they were practically drunk out of their asses. It was where Stone Gossard said that moment was when the band started to do something that was against everything with stardom by saying no.
That move to just say no to all of the trappings of rock stardom and to get more daring with their music is why the band has been so revered for those many years. While they would have to endure commercial decline and lose some fans in the process, the people that stayed with them were the ones that kept them going. It also got them in trouble when the band chose to fight Ticketmaster and find a father figure in Neil Young who took them on as his backing band for a European tour. Crowe’s approach to the documentary strays from a lot of convention where the band’s albums aren’t given much profile which will irk fans. Yet, the archival footage that the band had filmed over the years are more than enough to get them engaged as it reveals how a song like Daughter got made.
With the help of cinematographer Nicola B. Marsh in shooting new interviews and editors/sound designers Kevin Klauber and Chris Perkel to gather all of that footage. Crowe is able to make a film that makes the Pearl Jam story more intriguing as they would progress into the later years on how they would deal with Roskilde tragedy in 2000 and their own personal issues with each other. While it’s a very sobering yet unsentimental doc that has the band members feel relax to tell their story. There are some funny moments that includes a hilarious silent-film sequence of the many drummers the band had inter-cut with This is Spinal Tap where they would eventually find their permanent drummer in Matt Cameron.
Pearl Jam Twenty is a remarkable documentary from Cameron Crowe who does justice to the story of one of the great bands of the last 20 years. Fans of the band will no doubt be entertained by the interviews and footage that is presented in the film. Notably as it doesn’t pull punches on who they are which allows them to love them even more. Casual fans or people new to the band might have a bit of difficulty following the narrative as it strays from the convention of traditional rock docs. In the end, Pearl Jam Twenty is a magnificent film from Cameron Crowe.
Cameron Crowe Films: (Say Anything…) - (Singles) - (Jerry Maguire) - Almost Famous - (Vanilla Sky) - (Elizabethtown) - The Union - We Bought a Zoo - Aloha
Pearl Jam Reviews: Studio Albums: (Ten) - (Vs.) - (Vitalogy) - (No Code) - (Yield) - (Binaural) - (Riot Act) - (Pearl Jam) - (Backspacer)
Live Albums: (Live on Two Legs) - (Live at Benaroya Hall) - (Live in NYC 12/31/92) - (Live at Easy Street) - (11/30/93-Las Vegas, Nevada) - (Live at the Gorge 05/06) - (Live at Lollapalooza 2007) - (Live on Ten Legs)
Compilations: (Lost Dogs) - (Rearviewmirror) - (Pearl Jam 20 OST)
Videos/DVDs: (Single Video Theory) - (Touring Band 2000) - (Live at the Showbox) - (Live at the Garden) - (Immagine in Cornice)
© thevoid99 2011
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