Published on December 2nd, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie0
Pearl Jam Twenty Film Review: One For The Fans
Director: Cameron Crowe.
Cast: Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready and Jeff Ament.
Pearl Jam Twenty is a interesting documentary into the famous rock band, Pearl Jam. Luckily for director, Cameron Crowe, he happens to have been on the scene since the band’s formation in the early 1990’s.
Pearl Jam turned out to be an enormously popular group that commanded the respect of tens of millions of loyal fans throughout the world. It is a band that has a deep connection between its fans and its members.
In the age in which many music acts have become corporate franchises it is unsual that Pearl Jam seem to have remained steadfastly, and arguably stubbornly, true to their early ideals.
‘If many were to mention one name associated with Pearl Jam it would be Eddie Vedder, their front man. ‘
When Pearl Jam were unhappy with the huge profits Ticketmaster were making their fans pay to go to concerts, the band boycotted the company. Such action against a hugely powerful corporation was not without its cost and the band paid a heavy price. Nevertheless, they took a stand and stuck behind their principles where others would not have taken such a stance. This sets them apart.
If many were to mention one name associated with Pearl Jam it would be Eddie Vedder, their front man. Terribly uncomfortable giving interviews and painfully shy he is not the most effective at expressing himself in conversation. Thankfully, the other members of the band have no such inhibitions.
On the surface Vedder appears to be the polar opposite of the confident, charismatic Mother Love Bone, singer Andrew Wood. Wood’s group would form the genesis of what would become Pearl Jam after the singer tragically died from drug abuse.
The dynamics between Vedder and the rest of the band is interesting. He is the unspoken leader but yet he doesn’t appear to conform to any of the stereotypical aspects of someone in command. He seems to be more unassuming and withdrawn than anything. Yet underneath there is a man with a fiery determination and a willingness to be uncompromising with his principles.
‘This further strengthens the notion that Vedder can be extremely uncompromising.’
The documentary retells an interesting anecdote of a group divided with the sole figure of Vedder doing his own thing, driving himself across the countryside to gigs while the others travel by plane. This further strengthens the notion that Vedder can be extremely uncompromising.
Aside from such idiosyncrasies there is also a darkness that permeates Vedder. We see footage of him perilously climbing stages and hanging out of the rafters high above the crowd. Members of the band look up, concern and worry etched onto their foreheads as they simply watch on. Yet Vedder, living in his own world with codified rules that are difficult for outsiders to understand, ignores their apprehension and continues on regardless.
One of the most fascinating insights Pearl Jam Twenty offers is a glimpse into the motivations behind why an uber-successful band such as Pearl Jam does what it does. Those such as Stone and Vedder speak of a connection between the band and its audience as all groups do. However, Vedder seems obsessed to the point of delusion during one of the early interviews when they play in front of a large crowd.
Unfortunately, this obsession is never focused on and sadly remains a missed opportunity. It would have been great to look at what a psychologist would have made of the euphoric experience Vedder seems to be having.
‘The chief reason for this lies with the myopia of the documentary. ‘
The problems with the documentary start to become apparent once you start to look at the wider context. This film is really only made for fans who like and are familiar with the band already. Therein lays the problem.
For people who are only vaguely aware of the group, or perhaps have never heard of them, this film may not pique their interest. The chief reason for this lies with the myopia of the documentary. It fails to properly establish a wider context. It never sets out Pearl Jam’s position in the greater pantheon of music or culture in general.
Apart from some brief, scattered television footage, the film never dwells on the culture that existed in the 1990’s. During that era a self-questioning disenfranchised youth emerged. These people were dissatisfied with the ethos that suggested they should be happy with the status quo. Although there is nothing new about this as questioning the world we inhabit dates back to the time of the ancient Greeks, it caused quite a stir amongst the gate-keeping establishment.
To the film’s credit it does explore this to some extent. Nonetheless, it is not direct and is treated more as a footnote. Pearl Jam, together with Nirvana, were two bands that captured and recorded this disenfranchised, disillusioned sentiment and explored these ideas through songs.
As it is, Pearl Jam Twenty is a film that fans will love the most. For those indifferent to Pearl Jam, this documentary will make little or no impact. Its failure to look at the bigger picture and put the band in a cultural context as well as ask more probing questions of its lead singer detracts from its lasting impression.
It could have been a remarkable film but as it is it’s simply just another music documentary about an atypical band.
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