"Pearl Jam Twenty" Review — 5 out of 5 stars
Tue, 01 Nov 2011 07:54:32
Pearl Jam Twenty—available on DVD now—is a lot more than a time capsule. It's one of the most riveting films of 2011.
Director Cameron Crowe has crafted not only the quintessential Pearl Jam story, but the essential rock 'n' roll movie. Over the course of a little more than two hours, Crowe follows Pearl Jam from the moment that Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament met up until the present. He ties everything together with unseen live footage, honest interviews, and a couple of crucial key themes. The movie runs less like a "doc" and more like a drama punctuated by often hilarious and heartwarming vignettes.
At the same time, Crowe examines the Seattle scene of the early '90s and why it was so impactful, incorporating everything from Adam Sandler's "Opera Man" mimicking Pearl Jam to MTV News pieces.
Interestingly, there was always tension percolating at the heart of Pearl Jam, and that's an idea Pearl Jam Twenty doesn't shy away from. Gossard admits that he thought Ament was going to punch him in the face the first time they met. Luckily, that didn't happen and the two formed the core of what would become Pearl Jam in the preceding project, Mother Love Bone. The filmmaker illuminates the significance of that initial act, including archival interviews with singer Andy Wood, highlighting how charismatic and gregarious he was. After Wood's O.D., Gossard and Ament both reexamine everything.
Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell emphasizes a turning point—"That was the death of the innocence of the scene" and not Kurt Cobain's suicide.
Reluctant to keep going, Ament and Gossard hooked up with Mike McCready and their next instrumental demo landed in the hands of Eddie Vedder. Upon hearing the San Diego native's vocals, Gossard thought, "It wasn't Mother Love Bone", and Cornell smiles, "I heard a guy. I hadn't met him but he was in there."
That "guy" gave a voice to the sadness and frustration of the music as well as an entire generation. The promise of the '60s had given way to a decadent '70s and an even more decadent '80s. Divorce had become the norm, and there was a nation of young people nursing broken hearts and shattered dreams. There were few places left to turn. Crowe subtlely points out that Vedder and his new bandmates were coming from the exact same place even though they'd never met and couldn't have grown up farther apart. Throughout the film, different vignettes show respective disillusionment—whether it's guitarist Mike McCready's quiet demons surfacing or Ament explaining how detached his childhood was. These guys felt something.
After six days together, Pearl Jam played their first show, and the songs had already taken shape into the precursors of Ten. Early on, Vedder reveals, "My dad passed away before I knew he was my dad" and while writing, "I was still thinking about my dad and loss. In ways, we were strangers but we were coming from a similar place. All of that came out in the first batch of songs."
In his hushed and humble delivery, Vedder sums up the bands seminal masterpiece, Ten. After that quick, unadulterated early exorcism the band skyrocketed to superstardom. Crowe's footage captures the fervor surrounding the band whether it's a shot of the Time Magazine cover featuring Vedder or insane crowds at Lollapalooza 1992.
The frenzy surrounding the band never changed them though, and that's another endearing aspect of both Pearl Jam Twenty and the individuals playing the music. They never wanted or needed the adoration, and that's why a record like Vitalogy or No Code holds up so poignantly. Simultaneously, Crowe also captures the detachment that arose later on. Vedder preferred a "Fugazi-style" D.I.Y. approach, while never holding anything back.
At one point, the singer ponders, "Maybe by talking about things that are a little bit dark or on the negative side of our existence and dealing with them is how I find my happiness."
As the film progresses, it's clear that the band never wanted a wall between themselves and their fans. They fought for them, standing up against Ticketmaster and every note and lyric came from the heart. That's why the film resonates so powerfully, matching the intensity of the music. That's also why Pearl Jam will be here forever.
Will you be picking up Pearl Jam Twenty on DVD?