‘Pearl Jam Twenty’: Long players

One of the highlights of the summer press tour for me was an unplanned one. I was coming back from a party, and Fienberg told me that PBS was doing a late-night screening of “Pearl Jam Twenty,” the Cameron Crowe-directed documentary about the band’s tumultuous two decades that debuted last night as part of the “American Masters” series.(*) I had writing to do, and/or sleep to catch up on, but I figured I’d go for a half hour, get a sense of what questions to ask at the press conference the next morning, and then call it a night.

(*) At least my local PBS affiliate is rerunning it tomorrow afternoon, and I imagine if you missed it last night, it shouldn’t be hard to find in the coming days. (A few days earlier, in fact, I saw that my cable system had it On Demand, albeit for 7 or 8 bucks.) Just make sure you search listings for “American Masters.”

Two and a half hours later, I was jumping up and down as I headed back to my room, several dozen different Pearl Jam songs rattling through my head, far too much adrenaline coursing through my body for sleep to be a reasonable goal. While Pearl Jam had never been one of my all-time favorite bands, the movie brought me back to a time in my life when they were inescapable if you paid any attention to pop culture, reminded me of how and why they exploded so quickly from formation to phenomenon, and generally did a great job of providing an intimate look at what it was like to go from playing in high school gyms to being one of the biggest bands in the world.

When “Pearl Jam Twenty” premiered at film festivals last month, HitFix’s lead music writer Melinda Newman offered her own review of the film, and while she liked it, too, she found some faults in terms of how Crowe dealt with the second half of the band’s career, wished he had devoted more time to the band in the studio, etc. When we talked about the film on this week’s podcast, Fienberg also lamented that Crowe didn’t really deal with the band’s political activism, which is a big part of their story over the last decade or so. I can see both those points, but as Dan also noted, Pearl Jam doesn’t have the stereotypical rock band career arc; they’re not nearly as big as they once were, but they’ve kept on going, kept on touring (and have made themselves known for their varied, improvisational sets), kept on doing what they’ve been doing for 20 years without a major tragedy within the band. (Though the film, of course, dealt with Mother Love Bone and the death of Andrew Wood, whose ghost hangs over a lot of the film in interesting ways.)

For those of you who watched the movie last night, what did you think? Did you want more, or do you think Crowe nailed all the important points? And what I’m especially curious about is what anyone thought who didn’t go in as a big fan of the band.