Film Review: ‘Pearl Jam Twenty’


Directed by Cameron Crowe, Pearl Jam Twenty (2011) is largely geared towards fans of the band, but offers much more than the anecdotal ramblings of a group of musicians trying to recount the years spent in an alcohol/drug-induced coma. Neutrals should enjoy listening to an articulate group of talented musicians, discussing the 20-year journey from unknowns to mega-stars; one that has seen them earn acclaim on both a commercial and artistic level.

Pearl Jam Twenty chronicles the years leading up to the band’s formation, the chaos that ensued soon-after their rise to mega stardom, their step back from center stage, and the creation of a trusted circle that would surround them – giving way to a work culture that would sustain them. It is told in big themes and bold colours with blistering sound and is carved from over 1,200 hours of rarely seen and never-before seen footage spanning the band’s career.

With a heavy focus on their tumultuous relationship with the mainstream record industry, Pearl Jam Twenty evokes a level of integrity that they maintain to this day. Like numerous other so-called rock n’ roll bands, they may have indulged and got caught up in the lifestyle but they have consistently remained true to who they believe they are and have worked hard to not bow to the constraints and regulations of mainstream success – most notably exemplified by their hugely publicised battle with ticketing giants, Ticketmaster.

Under Crowe’s direction – a long term friend and fan of Pearl Jam – the film manages to capture the essence of the band’s success during the grunge years, and explores how they managed to remain consistently relevant throughout the turn of the millennium and onwards – a period that saw the advent of the internet and huge advances in recording technology, which together impacted on the formation of bands’, the production of music and the selling of records and so on.

Pearl Jam Twenty, while exploring changes in the industry, remains intimate, with a deep focus on the personal lives of the members of Pearl Jam, casting light on the relationships that they have with other bands, like Soundgarden and Nirvana, also born out of the Seattle grunge era. In addition it pays close attention to the significance of Pearl Jam’s history prior to front-man, Eddie Vedder joining the band – a period where they were known as Mother Love Bone, and were fronted by charismatic performer, Andrew Wood, who unfortunately passed away only days prior to the release of the band’s first album, Apple.

Pearl Jam Twenty manages to capture the effects and impact that Wood’s untimely passing had on the future of Pearl Jam and the music they produced after his death, and it conveys the band as being one of the last bastions of music’s potential to put the fans first and own vested interests last. Such a romanticised view of alternative music is arguably born out of some bias on Crowe’s part (as a friend and fan) but after watching the film, it is hard to argue that Pearl Jam have always maintained a belief that the music and its relationship with the fans should always come first.

Russell Cook