Toronto International Film Festival 2011: ‘Pearl Jam Twenty’


Director: Cameron Crowe

Cast: Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder, Matt Cameron, Chris Cornell, Kurt Cobain, Neil Young

Country: USA

Documentaries made by non-documentarians can be exhilarating since, new to the form, the filmmakers tend to break old rules and push into interesting territory. But they can also wind up looking something like Pearl Jam Twenty. Confusing (even to this follower of the group), scattered, and unaccountably incomplete (one longtime member of the band is never even mentioned aloud!), this one is for fans only.

Cameron Crowe stumbles through his documentary like an amateur, missing several clear opportunities to build narrative tension, to get his subjects to open up, or to romance the audience with the music. At one point he gets the band’s frontman Eddie Vedder to start crying while thinking back on meeting bassist Jeff Ament, and then he cuts away. Surely the next question was the important one, and the next answer was going to be powerful; but we’ve moved on. At almost two hours running time, and boasting some pretty amazing access to old home videos, one-on-one interviews, and live footage, Crowe certainly had enough time and material to do more.

But, the most egregious problem with the film is that it is quite disrespectfully lopsided. While the group’s formative years are discussed in detail, their struggles with sudden fame are explored, their battle against Ticketmaster fleshed out, and the horror of the Roskilde Festival (when several fans were crushed to death at the front of the stage) is revisited, those things all happened in the first ten years of the band’s existence. But, this is Pearl Jam Twenty.

Quite weirdly, none of their records since 2000 are mentioned other than in passing, very little post-2000 material is discussed (aside from an anti-George W. Bush number that they rarely play), and one is generally given the message that Pearl Jam’s first ten years were worthy of careful consideration while the next ten years were a time that also happened. There’s great music throughout, though, and the film winds up with an absolutely thrilling bit of editing magic over a kaleidoscopic guitar solo from Mike McCreedy on the arena powerhouse “Alive”.

RATING 4 / 10