out of Five
Running time: 120
Entertaining, well made documentary that's a treat for fans thanks to its wealth of rarely seen footage and newly filmed interviews, though its deliberate decision to avoid the sex and drugs side of things means that it ultimately feels both unbalanced and incomplete.
What's it all about?
Directed by Cameron Crowe (who's clearly something of a superfan), Pearl Jam Twenty is a documentary (or a rockumentary, if you will) that looks back at two decades in the life of grunge band Pearl Jam – Eddie Veder, Jeff Ament, Matt Cameron, Boom Gaspar, Mike McCready and Stone Gossard – with the title cleverly referring to both the fact that they've been going twenty years and that their most famous album was called simply Ten.
Narrated through talking head interviews with both the band members and a number of key contemporaries, the film traces the band's history from their early days as Mookie Blaylock (named after a professional basketball player, hence the swift name-change) through grunge superstardom and various notable or infamous events in the band's career, such as their battle with Ticketmaster, their rather ungracious Grammy acceptance moments or, tragically, the death of nine fans during a crush at Denmark's Roskilde Festival in 2000.
Crowe has assembled a wealth of archive material that includes news reports, TV clips from entertainment shows, home movies, early appearances, backstage moments and unseen or rarely-seen concert footage, culled from both networks and fans. These are interspersed with several specially filmed to-camera interviews as well as pre-existing interview material.
Perhaps inevitably, the film devotes much of its lengthy running time to lead singer Eddie Vedder, though it's interesting to hear his fellow band members concede that they weren't happy with his scaffold-climbing, stage-diving antics at the time, while acknowledging that it would be pointless trying to talk him out of it. At any rate, Vedder emerges as a fascinating character and has the good grace to be charmingly embarrassed when reminded about a particularly drunken stage appearance.
At times the film veers dangerously close to Spinal Tap territory, something both Crowe and the band acknowledge when they list all the drummers they've had over the years and the reasons why they left. However, the main problem is that Crowe's decision to avoid details of the band's personal lives (so no sex and no drugs and only cursory mentions of alcohol) means that it ultimately feels like we're not getting the full story.
Pearl Jam Twenty is an entertaining documentary that will have you humming Pearl Jam riffs for days, but its deliberately narrow focus means that it's more of a love letter than a warts and all account of the band. Worth seeing, all the same.