As anyone who has seen Almost Famous knows, filmmaker Cameron Crowe used to be a rock journalist - a talented upstart who was publishing in Rolling Stone when he was still in high school.
In Pearl Jam Twenty, Crowe, a longtime resident of Seattle and friend to the members of its most celebrated band, brings his reportorial chops to bear, setting out to chronicle the origins, evolution, and current status of the rock outfit fronted by Eddie Vedder.
A must-see for Pearl Jam fans - and for folks keen on gleaning insights into the pressures that come with megastardom - Crowe's doc has a field day with old archival recordings, videos of nascent club shows, and serious sit-downs with a charmingly contemplative Vedder, bassist Jeff Ament, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, and current drummer Matt Cameron. (Pearl Jam has gone through a lot of drummers in the course of its 20 - now 21 - years, and just when Crowe's movie is in danger of taking this personnel business too seriously, it cuts to a clip from This Is Spinal Tap, with the mock bandmates lamenting their drummer woes.)
Pearl Jam Twenty begins with footage of the storied Andrew Wood, lead singer of Mother Love Bone, Ament's and Gossard's scruffy late-'80s ensemble. Wood (a Jack Black doppelganger) died of a heroin overdose when he was 24, and the band dissolved. From its ashes was born Pearl Jam, and based on an audition cassette mailed in from a San Diego surfer dude with a beautifully rough voice, Vedder flew up to Seattle and met the band.
The rest is history as grunge rock, and then grunge fashion, took the world by storm. Or something like that. If Pearl Jam Twenty has its share of hyperbole, it's leavened with humor, self-deprecating commentary, and a deep-pockets budget's worth of great clips (Jimi Hendrix, the Who, the Stones; Elvis Presley at the Seattle World's Fair; David Lynch, and so on). Pearl Jam Twenty also chronicles the band's battle against Ticketmaster, which led to congressional hearings; its not-always-welcomed political views, and the tragic Roskilde Festival, in which nine Danish fans were crushed to death during Pearl Jam's show. That event forced the group to reexamine how it operated, and why. The reflection, and remorse, manifested by Vedder and company are striking.
Pearl Jam Twenty begins a one-week run at the Franklin Institute's Tuttleman Imax Theater. Although the film is not in the Imax format, the soundtrack should be awesome in the giant-screen venue.