Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Pearl Jam Twenty – not so much a review as a fan’s take

I’m a huge fan of Pearl Jam, and I’m a huge fan of Cameron Crowe (director of Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous amongst others), so there’s no point pretending I can offer an objective critical review of Pearl Jam Twenty, Crowe’s documentary of the band’s 20-year history so far. What I can tell you, having seen it at one of the worldwide one-day only screening’s last night, is that it is definitely one for the fans. Crowe's loosely chronological scrapbook-like approach offers up tidbits on the band's evolution over the years, inter-band relationships and songwriting processes; but ultimately this is a celebration, plain and simple, and taken on those terms it’s terrific.

Crowe has been a close friend of the band since before they were Pearl Jam, when they formed Mother Love Bone in the burgeoning early-90s Seattle grunge scene, and consequently he appears to have had access to every piece of film ever taken of the band. This means everything, from the band’s calamitous drunken performance at the wrap party for Crowe’s film Singles, to their tragic Roskilde festival slot in which 9 people were killed in a mosh-pit crush, is represented by on-the-spot video footage. There’s lots of good interview material with all the band members, as well as the scene’s other significant players, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell chief amongst them, but Crowe never dwells on a talking head for long when he has the pictures available to tell the story. His keen sense for comedy comes through too, with witty cutting between archive material and present-day reflections.

Predictably the first half of the film is more compelling than the second, as it contains so much fantastic footage from early performances and interviews, but even so, Crowe’s choice of live clips is never less than spot on, and he ends the film with a recent performance of Alive that is goosebump-inducing in its intensity. If you’re a fan of the band, you really owe it to yourself to see this movie as soon as possible.

Pearl Jam Twenty from Pearl Jam on Vimeo.

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