In a neat bit of pop-culture convergence, the 20th-anniversary commemoration of Nirvana’s Nevermind (which MTV News has been feting all week long) is coinciding with another grunge-centric, two-decade celebration: Cameron Crowe’s documentary about the founding and globe-spanning success of [artist id="1006"]Pearl Jam[/artist].
“When I saw the early … edits of it, I thought it was very interesting and kind of exciting and, like I said, it runs the gamut of all those emotions,” guitarist Mike McCready told us in May. “And it actually put in some sort of musical perspective the past 20 years, like, ‘Oh yeah, we did do that, we did do this’: the Ticketmaster thing, there was Roskilde, there were all these issues, and there were these great highs and interesting beginnings. The story it tells is: Why did it work, and why does it still? It made more sense when I saw the movie.”
After debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month, “Pearl Jam Twenty” is set for a one-night-only premiere at theaters across the country Tuesday (September 20). The early word from critics is that while the doc gives fans unique access to the band, especially in early footage hauled out from the achieves, it suffers from director Cameron Crowe’s hagiographic treatment of his subject. But that might just be exactly what PJ devotees are looking for.
“Cameron Crowe’s feature doc … is among his most effective and deeply felt work. … Every rock act possesses a mysterious alchemy that becomes a kind of mythology; as a portrait of one of the biggest bands in the world, ‘Pearl Jam Twenty’ doesn’t so much capture that alchemy as describe it. But it does so with passion, and even the unconverted will find a convincing case for the band’s longevity, popularity and influence.” — Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter
“Crowe, who does a remarkable job of collecting archival footage from the band’s earliest days (and even before that) focuses heavily on [the band's early days]. He narrates the beginning (before getting almost totally out of the way), setting the stage for the late ’80s and early ’90s, when Seattle was the rock music capital of the world. Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell talks about how there was a wealth of bands, but unlike in New York or Los Angeles, the competition tended to be more friendly than cut throat. Even later, when the twin towers of the Seattle scene — Pearl Jam and Nirvana — seemed ready to face off after Kurt Cobain slagged Pearl Jam’s music for being too mainstream, they resolved their differences before Cobain died.” — Melinda Newman, HitFix
“The cinematic equivalent of a concert T-shirt, XXL biodocu ‘Pearl Jam Twenty’ gives another awesome souvenir to die-hard fans of the chart-topping Seattle scenesters-turned-cult faves while leaving others to wish there was a thesis in former rock-journo Cameron Crowe’s two-hour puff piece. Finding a pulse only in the band’s late-reel performance of ‘Alive,’ a lusty passage that would’ve begun a pic intent on making a case for the group’s greatness, ‘Twenty’ simply counts the years from 1991 via sludgy backstage and onstage footage whose rarity can’t forgive its inclusion. Crowe’s critic mentor, the late Lester Bangs, would cringe.” — Rob Nelson, Variety
“Before Vedder was vaguely mystical and a little inscrutable, he was boyish, smiley and uninhibited. Vedder doesn’t come through any clearer after ‘Pearl Jam Twenty,’ but the band’s journey remains a thoroughly entertaining one. Any enterprise like this is inherently self-congratulatory, but the film is best considered from Crowe’s perspective: that of a fan.” — Jake Coyle, The Associated Press
The Final Word
“[It] suffers from being an all-out fawnapalooza. Crowe, a former Rolling Stone reporter, wastes unprecedented access to one of modern rock’s most private, compelling and enigmatic acts to create little more than a promotional video for Pearl Jam’s non-stop tours. There’s plenty to elicit fist pumps from steadfast fans, largely because of rare archival footage. (A silly slow dance between security guard-turned-rocker Eddie Vedder and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain is lump-in-the-throat poignant). Yet Crowe glosses over too many of Pearl Jam’s darkest days — a drummer’s mysterious firing, addiction battles, nine fans dying at a show — to keep non-Jammers from getting bored.” — Joseph Rose, The Oregonian
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