Saturday, September 10, 2011

TIFF Review 2011: "The Love We Make"

(USA, 2011, 94 minutes)
Directed by: Albert Maysles and Bradley Kaplan
Cast: Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Bill Clinton, James Taylor, Billy Joel
Timely released to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the devastating events of 9/11, Sir Paul McCartney's new documentary--a TIFF World Premiere--chronicles the ennui and angst of the fallout of that turbulent day, albeit—as some wags have accused--from the perspective of a reasonably insulated, well-to-do celebrity who nonetheless rose to the calling to do his part with equal parts selflessness and canny self-promotion (still steaming from having bought a first-run ticket for “Give My Regards To Broad Street”, are we?).
On the morning of September 11, 2001, before American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Centre’s North Tower, Paul McCartney was sitting on New York's JFK tarmac waiting to return to England. Once the flight was delayed and he found himself stranded, he wondered what he could do to help lift the spirits of New Yorkers and America-as-a-whole. As a former Beatle and one of the most beloved celebrities of this or any other century, the answer, of course, lied in what he did best: make music. With a little help from his friends (couldn’t resist)...
The first thing McCartney did was enlist the services of master documentarian and long-time friend Albert Maysles (who, with his late brother David, photographed The Fab Four's first arrival in New York City in 1964 to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in their infamous short What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A.) to chronicle the events of next several manic weeks. In a time a few years before the advent of 720p cell phone video, Maysles had little choice but to use the unwieldy and comparatively expensive 16mm film format to capture McCartney's grandiose plans for The Concert For New York City on the fly...
While obviously aware of the camera's presence, McCartney comes off as an unpretentious, gracious, and even humble presence (esp. when he confesses that he sent his children to public school so that they wouldn't become "snobs"). Just shy of 60, he was still full of youthful energy and enthusiasm (he repeatedly, and endearingly, hard-sells his new 9/11 anthem "Freedom" to anyone within earshot, as if he'd conceived of the next "Let It Be"). Bolting around Manhattan through a manic schedule of interviews and promo events, McCartney seems relaxed and confident while cavorting along the sidewalk of New York, engaging fans who seem genuinely bewitched and startled by their encounter with a genuine Beatle, after all...
There’s a bit of rehearsal footage with his new touring band, then, we’re backstage at Madison Square Garden, where McCartney trades corny quips with fellow celebrities who have clearly caught his infectious ebullient bug. Among heavy-hitters like Bill Clinton, Ozzy Osbourne (their first meeting, amazingly), Eric Clapton, Jim Carrey, Harrison Ford, a young Stella McCartney (yet to take the fashion world by storm) is most excited about meeting Jon Bon Jovi. Sadly, no other Beatles appear (George was sick and in the UK), but Ringo’s son Zak Starkey fills in for The Who’s Keith Moon.
There are some key clips from the benefit, most memorably, Elton John’s performance of “Your Song” to the families of lost police and firemen, and McCartney’s own “Yesterday” (one of the few songs he performs in the film in its entirety).
Strangely, Maysles devotes only a minimum of screen time to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (in a performance of “Miss You”), considering their collective achievement of the timeless documentary classic "Gimmee Shelter").
The doc's most revealing sequence comes in the very last scene, where McCartney squashes any suspicion that this has all been an exercise in opportunistic image building. Outside a firehouse, he tells a small audience of firefighters that he was born at the end of the war (World War II), and that his own father was a volunteer firefighter who also inspired him, and many others still rebuilding their lives out of the rubble, with the unifying power of music. Upon witnessing the bravery and sacrifice of New York’s finest that morning, there was no doubt about what he should do…
With a decade having past, Maysles, co-director Bradley Kaplan, and editor passage Ian Markiewicz were able to infuse their account with some perspective and a refreshing lack of political melodrama that made so much of the initial artistic responses to the day either shrill and overwrought or too-timid and guarded.
This hopeless Beatlemaniac was sad to learn that Sir Paul couldn’t be at the public screening in person (although the now 69-year old, newly remarried McCartney did prepare a warm video introduction) but was equally thrilled to be in the presence of 82-year old Maysles, along with Kaplan and Markiewicz, for a spirited post-screening discussion.
©2011 Robert J. Lewis