Photo by John Hedlund

CMJ kicked off the first evening of its film series at Chelsea Clearview Cinemas with Pearl Jam Twenty, a documentary on one of the most storied rock bands in American history. Director Cameron Crowe had his work cut out for him with this film, considering the vast amounts of real-life drama Pearl Jam has overcome during the course of its two-decade career. Pearl Jam was born from the ashes of Mother Love Bone, the previous band of guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Amant, when frontman Andy Wood overdosed. The film chronicled the other tragedies Pearl Jam lived through over the past 20 years, including the premature death of Kurt Cobain and the ensuing media explosion, a long and arduous legal battle with Ticketmaster and the 2000 Roskilde Festival in which nine fans were crushed to death by a surging crowd during the Pearl Jam set. What separates Pearl Jam from most other American rock groups is that while any one of these things may have triggered a breakup for many bands, the drama only served to bring the group members closer.

While Crowe does delve into all of the dramatic aspects of the Pearl Jam story, he balances it quite nicely with biographies of the players individually as well as collectively, and he integrates a ton of the group’s home videos and concert footage, released or otherwise. This is easily the best part of the film, watching the band goofing around in interviews, traveling the country on tour and rocking out in concert, initially in small clubs and later for upward of 60,000 people. There’s a great montage of footage of Eddie Vedder climbing lighting rigs and jumping into crowds. What becomes evident in watching all the footage from over the years is how consistently sharp and energetic Pearl Jam is, regardless of whether it’s before or after the band’s rapid and overwhelmingly stressful commercial success.

For Pearl Jam fans, this is a must-see film, packed with treasure troves of unreleased footage and early demos. However, those unfamiliar or partially familiar with Pearl Jam’s music will enjoy it as well, as it is easy to fall in love with each of the band members and their journey together from distraught Seattle garage project to one of the most successful and enduring rock groups of all time.

All photos by John Hedlund.