Description from TIFF 2011 catalog by Thom Powers:
How do you explain Pearl Jam’s twenty-year run? In 1991, the band’s first album, Ten, struck a zeitgeist chord with its guitar anthems and dark themes. Songs like “Alive” and “Even Flow” helped make alternative rock a leading force on the airwaves. Even if you weren’t a follower, you couldn’t miss the image of long hair, plaid shirts and onstage intensity. But for an alternative rock band, the toughest thing to overcome, besides failure, is success. Pearl Jam frequently found itself the target of controversy — cast as rivals to Nirvana, taking a stand against Ticketmaster, associated with a festival tragedy — that would test the mettle of any band. Yet for twenty years they’ve continued to make music vital to their fans. How did that happen?
Director Cameron Crowe is a perfect fit to tell this story. He was an early fan of the band, casting its members in his 1992 film Singles, set in the Seattle music scene. Shortly before then, former members of Mother Love Bone (rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament) had connected with lead guitarist Mike McCready. Their demo tape wound up in the hands of Eddie Vedder, a San Diego surfer whose lead vocals produced a howling baritone. Later, Matt Cameron took the position of drummer. And that Pearl Jam lineup has lasted to this day.
In Pearl Jam Twenty, Crowe elicits reflective interviews with the band on their breakthroughs and challenges. The documentary interweaves these conversations with a rich archive of older interviews and performances, taking us back to the time when “grunge” was the buzzword.
From early on, Pearl Jam earned a reputation for delivering powerful concerts. In memorable footage from the nineties, we see the athletic Vedder climb the stage scaffolding and dive into the audience on several occasions. He’s since cut back on those death-defying stunts, but the band has never stopped putting tremendous faith in its fans.
About the director:
Cameron Crowe was born in Palm Springs and grew up in San Diego. He started working as a music journalist before writing the book and screenplay Fast Times at Ridgemont High (82). His feature films are Say Anything (89), Singles (92), Jerry McGuire (96), Almost Famous (00), Vanilla Sky (01), Elizabethtown (05) and the documentary Pearl Jam Twenty (11).