Fresh from postproduction on We Bought A Zoo starring Matt Damon, filmmaker Cameron Crowe showed up at TCA on Saturday to support his galvanizing music documentary Pearl Jam Twenty, which screened late Friday for critics at the press tour.
The in-depth film treatment of the seminal Seattle band, part of PBS’ American Masters series, will get theatrical play via a one-day engagement in 30 cities on Sept. 20, followed by a week-long run in select locations. It’s set to world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.
Crowe, a resident of Seattle who’s had up-close access to the band from its earliest days, said his goal was to capture the story from the inside. “I saw how they operated, and how it felt to be a member of the group, both onstage and off, and I thought, if I could just capture that on film, that would be something.”
The 110-minute doc is loaded with rare footage culled from some 3000 hours worth, collected over 20 years. Crowe, who said he spent nearly three years on the project, recently screened it for members of the band. “You could have heard a pin drop,” he recalls. “The oxygen disappeared from the room. They said, ‘this is group therapy going on here.”
Crowe, who got his start as a teen journalist for Rolling Stone, said he considers it “a measure of success when you’re able to get under their skin a little bit. In the end they said, ‘thanks for putting up a mirror so that we could learn about ourselves.”
The film captures the band’s beginnings as Mother Love Bone, and the death by drug overdose of its charismatic original lead singer, Andrew Wood. The legendary demo tape that brought San Diego surfer Eddie Vedder to the band’s attention is heard – and there’s potent performance footage from their second-ever live performance, less than a week after Vedder joined the band.
The story of the band’s astonishingly fast rise to worldwide fame is conveyed, along with Vedder’s trauma in dealing with how big they’d become. “When I first met Eddie, he was a guy who literally could not look up,” said Crowe. “His hair would be a wall. He’d sit there just grateful to be a part of everything. As the band exploded, he became fearful and upset, and he had to reinvent himself, become this tougher guy.” Crowe described how he himself became immersed in the Seattle music scene even before Vedder did, after following his then-wife, musician Nancy Wilson, to the city in the early ‘90s.
The Pearl Jam story, he acknowledged, doesn’t offer the tragic arc that typifies many a music doc. “It’s a story about surviving, and staying true to a certain ethic,” said Crowe. “About how you get to a state of grace that creates its own model.”
Still, there is plenty of drama, including the band’s boycott of Ticketmaster, in which other musicians who had pledged to stand with them did not; and the tragedy at Roskild, near Copenhagen, in which nine fans were crushed to death by an unruly concert crowd.
Crowe said his new movie, We Bought a Zoo, has been scored by Jonsi of Sigur Ros. “It was a music-filled experience,” he said of the film, which also stars Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church. “Matt Damon loves Sigur Ros. We played some of the music on his first day on set, and he said, ‘Keep it coming man, keep it coming.’”
Asked if he has ever considered a sequel to his film Say Anything, Crowe replied that “I do kind of think there might be another chapter to that. I’ve thought about it from time to time, and talked to John Cusack about it. Lloyd Dobler might be back. It’s the only thing I’ve written that I would consider doing that with.”