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Culturebox: They're Still Aliiiiiive!

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They're Still Aliiiiiive!
Cameron Crowe's cloyingly sweet Pearl Jam documentary.
By Dana Stevens
Posted Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, at 3:44 PM ET

Pearl Jam documentary. Click image to expand.Cameron Crowe's Pearl Jam Twenty (Vinyl Films) is the Platonic model of a fan-service rock documentary. If you love the music of Pearl Jam, the Seattle-based band now entering its third decade of existence, this two-hour chronicle will be as thrilling as a joyride in Eddie Vedder's tour van--which the authenticity-obsessed Vedder has been known to drive to gigs alone while the rest of his comfortably successful band takes a plane. If you haven't really thought about Pearl Jam since giving your brother a cassette of its first album, Ten, for Christmas in 1991, I'm not sure Crowe's film will make you slap your forehead over all you've missed. Still, this is a lovingly assembled tribute to the career of a working band that's still very much, to quote the title of its most iconic hit, "Alive."

Crowe, who was a rock journalist in Seattle at the time of Pearl Jam's rise in the early '90s, still approaches music with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of his teenage fanboy self, as played by Patrick Fugit in the semi-autobiographical Almost Famous (2000). Remember when Billy Crudup's character Russell, a featherbrained rock star, leapt from the roof of a house into a swimming pool after informing the cheering crowd below, "I am a golden god!"? Though that scene looked at rock 'n' roll self-mythologizing with affectionate irony, a part of Crowe clearly does believe in rock 'n' roll transcendence. Vedder's self-presentation is the opposite of golden-god vainglory--he's self-laceratingly emo to the core--but the archival clips of his youthful concert antics are downright Dionysian. Handsome and flowing-haired, Vedder would spontaneously scale the lighting rigs at shows, sometimes hanging at least 20 feet above the stage like a kid from monkey bars, or leap from high speakers to surf the ecstatic crowd.

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Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic. E-mail her at slatemovies@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter.

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