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Netflix Review: Pearl Jam Twenty
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Pearl JamPearl Jam Twenty
Netflix Streaming
DVD | Blu-Ray
Written and Directed by Cameron Crowe
Starring Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Matt Cameron, Chris Cornell, Kurt Cobain, Neil Young
Tremolo Productions
Originally Released: September 10, 2011

As a rock fan and metalhead, it’s hard for me to imagine in many ways that Pearl Jam is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. The time, in my mind’s eye, has flown; but the more I think about it, the more I consider how much this band has been a part of my passion for music… something evidently experienced by other fans as portrayed in Pearl Jam Twenty.

When Pearl Jam was only just starting to achieve international recognition, I was entering my teens. Music was in a transitional period, as far as rock was concerned. In the background, you had your harder edged thrash bands (and up and coming death metal groups) there, consistent with their attack. In the forefront you had the glam and the rock of the 1980s – but not for long…

As the 1990s began taking over the time stream, the bands labeled as ‘hair metal’ went out of the chief limelight, and taking their place was the harder edged and less image-based rock that had been highly influenced by punk and 1970′s rock. Before Nirvana exploded with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” it was considered the alternative election — at least until the media decided to categorize the new scene with perhaps the oddest genre title: grunge.

But the word was not an accurate description of the music or the scene. It came from commentators desperate to place a label upon that which those who played the music fought against being labeled. It was a unique time for rock and metal, and while some of the fans of the earlier scenes were (and some still are) dismayed by the new music, it cannot be denied that many of the bands from the Nineties contributed solid material that assisted with the rise of the newer generations of rock.

With every scene and style that appears and passes, you have a great amount of bands that quickly pass by — from the underground to the limelight, and then they disappear. But within each of these movements, you have a very select few that accomplish longevity. In the 1970′s shock rock/early metal, you have Alice Cooper and KISS, still going strong. The Big 4 from the early thrash days continue – Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. And even some branded from the hair metal scene continue, such as Motley Crue.

I can recall telling my peers back in the 1990s that Pearl Jam was going to be the band that would outlast the others. Beset by drug addictions, deaths, suicides, musical differences, most from that early background would fade away… and I’m happy to say after all this time, that I was right: Pearl Jam was the one act that held the longevity, and continue to please their fans to this day.

While Pearl Jam Twenty is undeniably a celebration of that longevity and the accomplishments, it is also a document that looks at some of the tougher times experienced by members of the band, and how much it impacted their evolution and their craftsmanship. They grew into musicians who took their art and their music very seriously, as well as how that music translated to and interacted with their fans.

Pearl Jam

The documentary focuses heavily on the first decade of Pearl Jam, and I was quite happy to see that they started at the very early beginnings: from with Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament had formed Mother Love Bone out of their former act Green River. Things had looked up for Mother Love Bone, with some radically solid songs such as “Stardog Champion” and “Crown of Thorns.” The origins are covered in a lot of depth, including interviews with band members and Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden and Audioslave), as they concentrate on the Mother Love Bone days.

Perhaps the most significant element from this specific music scene was the passing of Mother Love Bone vocalist Andrew Wood in 1990. Cornell, Ament, and Gossard accentuate this as an important turning point in the evolution not only of Pearl Jam, but of the general music scene within Seattle at the time.

Pearl Jam would rise out of the ashes of Mother Love Bone… The documentary then swings into how Mike McCready became involved with Ament and Gossard, and then how Eddie Vedder became the final piece of the puzzle – eventually taking the viewer on the whirlwind ride of how the band accomplished such high success so rapidly, and the toll it would take on them as individuals and as a group.

The film is an enlightening romp through the concert footage, backstage video, studio recordings, and contemplative reflections of the band members, as they go through their history. When Pearl Jam was at their height in the Nineties, they were generally a very private band when off stage; so the compilation of both performance and interview footage is astounding.

What is also overpowering in Pearl Jam Twenty is the depth of detail gone into explaining major turning points and events in the bands history, and the enlightening ties to specific material. “Blood,” for example, once a vague but important point of Vedder’s frustration with the tacky media picking at the band (among many other things), suddenly has clearer meanings and significance, as it is tied with the archive footage and current interviews.

While most “rockumentaries” follow a known chronological perspective of a band, providing an anthology (if you will) of the act’s background, Pearl Jam Twenty is far more reflective. It gives fans a deeper look into the thought processes behind the evolution of the group, and the impact specific experiences (such as the Roskilde tragedy) had on that development. Most acts would promote a film like this as a “behind-the-scenes” DVD, and while it does indeed have that element, it is an incalculably more emotional and absorbed process, giving deeper meaning to the literal movie title.

Pearl Jam

Obviously, with a 2-hour documentary, there is only so much content from 20 years of history one can squeeze in. The only critique I had was the absence of some of this content, particularly from the band’s second decade. While the first decade is heavy and rich with elements such as the band’s origins, Kurt Cobain’s death, and the boycott on Ticketmaster; the second decade’s noteworthy events, such as the band’s very public and vocal opposition to the Bush Administration (with the exception of one scene) or how the band have strongly supported the West Memphis Three, remain conspicuously and regrettably absent from the film.

In all honesty, ALL rock fans will love this film. This isn’t just for Pearl Jam fans or those reminiscing of the early Nineties… this is truly a rare inside view of a band and their passions, and how important the music is to them. I know of quite a few people who still kind of frown on “that whole grunge thing,” but I think those same people would discover this documentary to be enjoyable, enlightening, and surprising. Thanks for staying true to yourselves and your music, Pearl Jam: Here’s to your first 20 years, and here’s to the next decade ahead of you and beyond.

Overall Rating: 6 out of 5 (they get a bonus point for the Spinal Tap references)


  • Anonymous

    Yeah, my only complaint was that it was only 2 hrs long, would have loved 3 hrs!  One thing that surprised me was the part where the show the stalker photos of the car that crashed into Vedder’s house.  My fav part of course was the drunken MTV party, great doc for the fans.

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