Pearl Jam Twenty Review

Cameron Crowe is a big fan of Pearl Jam, the Seattle-borne band now entering its second decade. You might have heard of it – and you might've heard of Crowe, the writer/director of Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, and Vanilla Sky among others. Following the release of Crowe's The Union (the film opened this year's Tribeca Film Festival), Pearl Jam Twenty is a different breed of music doc – where The Union logged studio time with Elton John and Leon Russell, PJ Twenty covers years of Pearl Jam history, the trials and tribulations of the band – and Eddie Vedder. Vedder is undoubtedly the face, voice and image most people associate with the band and Crowe, while unabashedly admiring the musicians, doesn't deny Vedder's looming over the band as a whole and the resulting conflicts.

Notable footage abounds, a wealth of fan-shot concerts tracking back to Mother Love Bone, effectively the genesis of Pearl Jam. The footage is absolutely key to developing an appreciation for the spirited antics PJ displays soon after conception, with Vedder claiming the top rung, frenzied and sweaty as he climbs to great heights. Crowe is very much intent on providing a chronological portrait filled out by interviews with the band and fellow collaborators (Chris Cornell makes several appearances). That approach is both a blessing and a curse - on one hand, the casual fan (me) gets an education with plenty of introspection. On the other hand, for someone's who's followed Pearl Jam since grunge was classified as a music genre, someone who's attended dozens of PJ concerts, who knows their discography by heart, this is a tribute at most.

That's not to say its an empty tribute - in digging deep, Crowe makes good on exposing the band emotionally. Whether it's the death of Kurt Cobain, a concert stampede that left several fans dead or Pearl Jam taking on Ticketmaster, the film is careful not to paint the group as revolutionaries. Sure, a fan may gush about them on camera but the soft-spoken baritone-voiced Vedder, Ament, Gossard, and McCready don't exactly glow when they're reminded - they seem to look ahead, think hard, shake their heads and wonder how they ever got here.

There is a questionable quality to the band, and Vedder in particular in the desire to escape fame, to tour in a van while still remaining one of the biggest bands in the world. That decision puts Vedder at odds with the rest of the group, but out of the members butting heads arises a new foundation and a lengthy history. Crowe closes out the film with a powerhouse performance by the group and the effect is truly uplifting - you can see just why people are die-hard fans, why there is so much love in play and emotions at stake. 

All that history and artistry would be for naught if the group, still together, didn’t seem to care so much about what they did. The camaraderie may have evolved a thousand times but the spirit is there even as middle-aged men move slower and less recklessly than they would have a decade ago. It’s a look at musicians who are comfortable where they are at but also hungry to deliver, to continue making music. There's an idea that courses through the doc about Pearl Jam outlasting its many grunge kinfolk through sheer commitment - Crowe's film happens to be a testament to the history behind and the road that lies ahead.

The DVD looks excellent, the variety of footage showing age and wear but the modern-day captures looking spiffy and clean. Sound is awesome, especially in the concert scenes, which utilize surround sound skillfully. The mix is a labor of love, much like the film itself.

DVD Bonus Features

A collection of featurettes with self-explanatory titles serve as extras. Included are “Mike McCready Writing "Faithfull"”, “Jeff Ament in Montana”, “Stone Gossard Seattle Driving Tour”, “Boom Gaspar Joins the Band”, “Eddie Vedder House Tour”, and “Matt Cameron Writing "The Fixer”, "No Anything,” and “Come Back.”” Not vital extras, but certainly welcome additions.

"Pearl Jam Twenty" is on sale October 24, 2011 and is not rated. Documentary. Written and directed by Cameron Crowe. Starring Cameron Crowe, Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike Mccready, Matt Cameron.

Mark Zhuravsky • Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.


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