Pearl Jam Twenty – Seattle Times

Cameron Crowe: Film Was ‘Group Therapy’

An interview with Cameron Crowe, director of “Pearl Jam Twenty,” a documentary marking the band’s 20th anniversary.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Filmmaker Cameron Crowe has long had connections to Seattle in music and movies. So when it came time for a film on the first 20 years of Pearl Jam, Crowe, who began his career as a music journalist, was the band’s logical pick to be the movie’s director.

In addition to providing a chronicle of the band’s history, Crowe’s “Pearl Jam Twenty” proved to be a therapeutic viewing experience for band members.

“It was like the oxygen disappeared from the room as they went through every passage,” Crowe said, describing band members’ reaction to seeing the film. There was a particularly tense moment when Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready appears on film to say the band’s dynamic belonged to rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard initially and later shifted to lead singer and songwriter Eddie Vedder. “You could feel in the room this kind of, ‘Whoa, this is group therapy going on here.’ ”

Crowe said when “Pearl Jam Twenty” finished, it was greeted with silence until one of the band members’ wives praised it as “[bleeping] great, I wouldn’t touch a frame.”

“And then everybody kind of breathed again,” Crowe said. “That’s a measure of success in a way — that you’re able to get under their skin a little bit because if everything was perfect, it would have felt like an [electronic press kit].

“We all went back to their manager’s house afterwards and talked about it,” Crowe recalled. “And essentially they said, thanks for going through all the stuff and putting a mirror up so we could learn about ourselves a little bit.”

Northwest fans will get first crack at “Pearl Jam Twenty” when it shows at Cinerama Sept. 20-22 and on TV in late October when the film airs on PBS’ “American Masters.” The PBS broadcast will be followed by “Something in the Water,” a short KCTS-produced documentary on Seattle music and KEXP, directed by Ward Serrill (“The Heart of the Game”).

Crowe and his team spent three years combing through 1,200 hours of rarely scene Pearl Jam footage and filmed another 24 hours of interviews and concerts for “Pearl Jam Twenty.” Intended as part-concert film, part-insider account, the movie depicts the band’s ups and downs, including the June 30, 2000, accident at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, when nine fans were trampled and died during a Pearl Jam performance.

“It’s a big part of the story … I think they still live with it,” Crowe said. “A lot’s been done quietly to stay close to the families [of those who died] that they don’t talk about and we touch on it a little bit. Feeling that mortality and seeing what they saw, as Stone talks about, bodies being pulled over the barrier without life, they never forgot it. I think that’s an undercurrent in the music now — a kind of sadness mixed with joy that’s very real.”

Crowe, director of “Say Anything,” “Jerry Maguire” and the shot-in-Seattle “Singles,” said the Emerald City is as omnipresent in “Pearl Jam Twenty” as it is in the lives of band members.

“It’s part of the music and they all still live there,” Crowe said. “It’s not like they got rich and left. It’s a unique place to be hearing and making music. So [Seattle] is in there and hopefully in an atypical way, from the inside looking out rather than, ‘Here’s the grunge scene and there that happened.’ ”

Unlike so many rock-band stories, the Pearl Jam history is one that, to this point, offers a fairly upbeat conclusion, defying rock biopic conventions.

“The last 10 years is basically about them surviving and staying true to a certain ethic,” Crowe said. “Nobody dies. Nobody ODs. Nobody goes too far off the path of a basic integrity that they paid attention to. So it’s really about what happens with a band that develops an audience and stays with their fans. And their shows, which we tried to show in the film, kind of become this celebration of ‘We made it.’ ”

Courtesy of the Seattle Times – Rob Owen – September 17, 2011