Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pearl Jam Twenty (d. Cameron Crowe) + Sarah Palin: You Betcha! (ds. Nick Broomfield & Joan Churchill)

When Cameron Crowe's Pearl Jam Twenty was over, I lined up to use the bathroom between two other people, a woman and a man, who were at the same screening. The woman, who looked perhaps like she might've been in kindergarten when Pearl Jam's "Ten" came out, asked me, "That Chris Connell [sic], the guy with the--" she crooked her finger over her lip to indicate a pencil moustache, "--was he in the band?" "No," I said, "he's the lead singer of Soundgarden." "Oh," she replied, and I could tell this answer didn't satisfy her in the least, but the bathroom became vacant and she excused herself. Then the man behind me, who was closer to my age (36) and patchouli-scented, wanted to know what I thought of the film. I told him that as someone who lost track of the band--lost interest in it is the truth, but something told me not to say that, for he'd take it personally--after "Ten," I had trouble keeping up with it. He nodded sagely and said, "The thing about the drummers?"

It was as if he had read my mind: despite lead singer Eddie Vedder referring to drummers as "the heart of a band" and comparing the replacement of a drummer to "a heart transplant," the issue of Pearl Jam going through drummers like Kleenex is reduced to a jokey bit with guitarist Mike McCready. "Matt Cameron, the current one, is from Soundgarden," the man in line for the bathroom informed me. I was extra incredulous for effect: "Really? You'd think they'd mention that connection. It's relevant." "Yeah," he shrugged. "I loved the movie, but then I'm a superfan and knew the subtext." As Walter Chaw wrote of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, Pearl Jam Twenty is for an audience that "seeks the extra-sensory validation of their interior projections." The Thing About the Drummers is also indicative of a larger lack of controversy that beleaguers this glorified "Behind the Music" special. I stopped listening to Pearl Jam when they started making a concerted effort to be "less commercial," which is its own form of cynicism. Moreover, I felt disenchanted by the group's habit of adopting of every trendy political cause and by Vedder's childish polemics (see: "Bushleaguer" and its attendant hubbub). The film touches on each of these things, only in a way that is celebratory; a deadly combination of fanboy, friend, and Richie Cunningham, Crowe has zero objectivity about the band and transparently tries to protect them from embarrassment by skimming the surface of subjects--McCready's drug use, for instance--that can't be reframed in terms of artistic integrity.

Both Pearl Jam Twenty and Sarah Palin: You Betcha!, the latest muckraker from neo-exploitation filmmakers Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill, preach to the converted (Palin h8rs in the case of the latter). But that's really all they do. Structured exactly like Broomfield's lurid yet undeniably enjoyable Kurt & Courtney, You Betcha! interviews many a scorned acquaintance from Palin's past--for a former mayor of an Alaskan podunk, Palin has amassed an impressively Nixonian list of enemies--as prelude to a climactic confrontation with Palin herself that happens limply in a public forum because Broomfield can't get close enough to her in private. Listen: I hate everything about Sarah Palin (including her stupid face, which is positively dick-shrivelling on the big screen), but these stories of her scandalous behaviour in the offices she's held burn too quickly as rage fuel and are destined to be dismissed as bitter gossip once they reach her supporters in an inevitably secondhand fashion. While I appreciate the urge to reiterate on the eve of the next presidential election that she's a Creationist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, hypocritical moron, the film deflates its own alarmism by suggesting her political career has already come to a definitive end and forgoes almost every opportunity to examine the cultural vacuum that allowed this ignoramus to flourish in the first place--which, history being what it is (i.e., doomed to repeat itself), may have extended You Betcha!'s shelf-life a bit. Though always mischievous, Broomfield's work used to have that Channel 4 veneer of sophistication, but he's strictly a tabloid journalist now.
PROGRAMME: Special Presentations
Real to Reel


  1. Sarah Palin has enemies like we all do. This "film" is a just a blown up version of the people we've pissed off in life. It's a sad and pathetic attempt at mockery. Someone so filled with hate like Broomfield needs a spiritual awakening not, not a platform to spew it.

  2. It seems like you don't like the band that much to begin with. How exactly did they "adopt" a political cause with tracks like "Bushleaguer"? If anything they were the first to start the trend of negativity towards the Bush administration. In fact, what other political trends did they hop on to then outside of criticizing Bush? Bands like "Green Day" and "Disturbed" kind of hopped on the wagon a little after. I can understand someone losing interest around the times experimental albums like "No Code" and "Binaural" were made, but PJ has come back with a force with their latest works.

    And as far as Crowe being a fanboy - don't you think a director who is passionate about the material and knows the band well should be at the helms of this thing? Not every film has to be looked at through objective lenses. If so, what is your take on Michael Moore's films, which are widely accepted as being fine pieces of cinema.

  3. I love when someone is making a list of insults and, running out, has to throw a few in.

    What proves Palin is 'anti-Semitic'? Her strong support for Israel - the opposite of ostensibly pro-Semitic Obama?

    What proves Palin is 'homophobic'? Her belief in marriage as defined by our society and her religion? You know, the same religion and belief as Obama?

    What proves Palin is a 'hypocrite'? Oh, her daughter got pregnant and she's against that. And that was _totally_ under her control.

    And ugly? Seriously?

    Palin's ascent doesn't prove anything about a 'cultural vaccuum'. Obama's ascent proves a cultural head-up-your-assedness of our country, as much as the corresponding paroxysms of rage into which your type fly at the mere mention of a successful private and public citizen who doesn't meet your lofty standards of elitist behavior.

    As always I have to disclaim: I'm not a fan of Palin. But if she was unqualified to be VP, it's sure as Hell that Obama was unqualified for the big chair.

  4. What proves Palin is 'anti-Semitic'? Her strong support for Israel - the opposite of ostensibly pro-Semitic Obama?

    A Google search for "Sarah Palin anti-Semitic" brings up her calling the media's treatment of her a "blood libel" and being in the audience when Jews for Jesus head David Brickner spoke in Wasilla and said that the attacks against Israelites were punishment for not converting to Christianity. I don't think this makes her anti-semetic. I just think this makes her a moron. More name-calling? I just can't conceptualize how an intelligent thoughtful person could say and do those things.

    What proves Palin is 'homophobic'? Her belief in marriage as defined by our society and her religion? You know, the same religion and belief as Obama?

    Another quick Google search reveals her daughter using the term "faggot" on Facebook and Palin minimizing the effect. Her church, the Wasilla Bible Church, held a conference about "praying away the gay" and as governor of Alaska she vetoed a bill that would have extended benefits to the domestic partners of gay state employees. Less than one-half of one percent applied for these benefits. This seems pretty petty.

    What proves Palin is a 'hypocrite'? Oh, her daughter got pregnant and she's against that. And that was _totally_ under her control.

    Well, her teen mom daughter filmed a reprehensible PSA stating how lucky she is to have a support system to help her become a Mom and how you probably aren't so lucky, so you know.... don't have sex. Sex and pregnancy is only for teenage girls whose parents love them and have the financial resources to help them. Palin is anti-abortion and pro-abstinence and then whitewashes the consequences of this position.

  5. Just relieved that nobody asked "What proves Palin is a moron?"

  6. This movie was made for fans of Pearl Jam.
    An opinion shared by many, Pearl Jam is one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time. Pearl Jam, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, these are best bands of our time.

    The Beatles were a good band, but they didn't rock, they were pop stars.

    My favorite memory of this band is when Eddie wiped his ass onstage with the cover of a Rolling Stone magazine.

  7. @AC - "...your type...": what are you, my 103-year-old Welsh grandfather?

    @Dan - I dislike Green Day as much as I do Pearl Jam, but as Green Day were, as I remember, part of the Gilmore St. H/C scene, I imagine they've been politicised for at least as long as Pearl Jam.