Toronto 2011: Cameron Crowe’s Pearl Jam doc rolls out

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Twenty years into their career, Pearl Jam is in legacy-shaping mode this season, what with a multi-platform “Pearl Jam 20” series of releases that includes a double-disc soundtrack of archival recordings, an art book/written history, and a string of tour dates this fall.

Central to this roll-out, though, is the “Pearl Jam 20” documentary directed by Academy Award-winning writer/director Cameron Crowe, best known to Generation X as the man behind ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High,’ to grunge aficionados for his work on ‘Singles,’ and for rock journalists for his glorification of the geek life in “Almost Famous.” It premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday afternoon.

Crowe is an avowed Pearl Jam fan and longtime member of the band’s Seattle-based inner circle. In fact, the director cast the band in ‘Singles’ when their pre-Pearl Jam moniker was still Mookie Blaylock (after the NBA basketball player).

The result is a story told from the inside out, replete with Crowe’s knack for narrative. The band has deep archives of both film and music, and the director takes full advantage of the 30,000 hours of Pearl Jam film and music at his disposal. We see a young Eddie Vedder perform early shows and watch through the band’s eyes as the grunge scene explodes.


Crowe tackles the ups and downs of Pearl Jam’s career: Kurt Cobain’s on-the-record dismissal of their music; Pearl Jam’s failed 1994 David-versus-Goliath battle with Ticketmaster; their blistering, redemptive live shows; and the tragic death of nine fans in 2000 at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark who were crushed during the band’s performance.

Writes Crowe in the film’s notes, “The richness of the footage made our path very clear -- just tell the story of the band and let the music guide us.”

The film will be shown in theaters for one night only, Sept. 20, and then will premiere on PBS television on Oct. 21 as as part of the first PBS Arts Fall Festival.

Here’s a clip:

Watch the full episode. See more American Masters.

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-- Randall Roberts, Times music critic