HPR's Dave Lawrence reviews the new Paul McCartney documentary The Love We Make.
Out in December of 2011, The Love We Make is a moving documentary of just a few weeks in the life of Sir Paul McCartney. Directed by Albert Maysles and Bradley Kaplan, The Love We Make chronicles the time from September 11, 2001 through to the Concert for New York at Madison Square Garden a few weeks later on October 20th.
McCartney was on the runway getting ready to depart on a plane that fateful morning. Seizing on the energy of the moment, the DVD takes you on the trip with Sir Paul toward realizing he wants to give back, and help out, culminating with the star-studded MSG event. But the story is a bit more detailed than that; you learn how Paul’s father was a firefighter during World War II, and how Paul looks at this as a chance to give back on that score. He adds to it his connection to New York City and America in Beatles history, and so from the tragedy of 9/11, a concert is born.
Paul’s vision for a small benefit concert is merged with a VH1 plan to stage a larger show with layers of artists. The Love We Make shows how that comes together, with entertainment heavy Harvey Weinstein key in the mix. Over the course of several weeks, the viewer is taken behind the scenes as Paul rehearses for the performance, and does a series of interviews. Going along with Sir Paul for interview sessions with Dan Rather and Howard Stern, among others, shows some insight into Paul’s confident, relaxed demeanor. Seemingly unflappable in the face of typical racy questioning from radio legend Stern, and equally at ease communicating with veteran broadcaster Rather, McCartney seems largely unaffected by anything. He has a removed, thousand-yard stare even in his most engaged moments.
A way that The Love We Make really drives that point home is watching McCartney stroll the streets of New York, for a series of film shoots where he never stops walking, as random New Yorkers approach for pictures, autographs, or even to just share memories with the affable Beatle. Never rattled, always slightly on the move, Sir Paul mixes it up with everyone from business people from his past that he bumps into, to one guy who appears homeless, and unsuccessfully seeks assistance from Paul, who nonchalantly keeps the walk train rolling through all encounters.
Seeing Paul hanging out with James Taylor is a treat. The two recount their long history and the key role McCartney played in Taylor’s discovery. The humble JT gets a second feature in the film when another scene features he, Macca, and former President Clinton all BSing backstage at the Madison Square Garden show. The moments are wild perhaps for what they reveal about James Taylor more than anything; his strong connection to McCartney and Clinton is impressive; they both treat the Fire and Rain songwriter like an old friend.
Other musicians and celebs who drop by in the days and hours prior to the Garden soiree include Sheryl Crow, Billy Crystal, Jim Carrey, and Eric Clapton. The Carrey exchange is interesting; he seems to meet Sir Paul quickly backstage, gushing to him (as almost all those who meet him do). When he’s done with Sir Paul, he’s back into a crowd and headed out of the VIP area when Paul’s daughter Stella, un-introduced, attempts to lure Carrey into wearing a New York policeman’s hat. Carrey appears to completely blow off her request, saying something like “Somebody else does that”, unaware it’s Sir Paul’s daughter he’s dismissing. Funny moment, and perhaps one Carrey would cringe at seeing. It’s fun to watch stars like Ritchie Sambora of Bon Jovi gawking at Sir Paul up-close, trying to get his attention and get a word in with the megastar.
There are quite a few moments showing McCartney’s band practicing. It’s kept entertaining with shots of rehearsals with Billy Joel and is the only part of the documentary that ever gets tedious.
The heaviest moments are from the concert itself. Somehow, all the years in between do not take away knowledge of what happened to bring together this line-up of artists. It’s the shots of the firefighters in the crowd that got this reviewer most directly in the heart. Seeing the colleagues of the men who perished in that horrific morning… there is a strong wave of emotion it produces, remembering the raw emotions swirling in the air just weeks after the attacks. Suddenly the rock show part is not as important. Seeing The Who’s deadly serious take on Won’t Get Fooled Again, one of the anthem’s of the post-9/11 era, interspersed with shots of firefighters and first responders watching… those moments were tearjerkers. The enormous all-star “Freedom” sing-along winds up a show that carries the weight of thousands of souls. Few rock concerts -- if any other concert ever did -- end up being so serious. Few DVD’s of rock concerts evoke the kind of emotional response The Love We Make concludes with, between the live shots showing the faces of firemen, to the final scene at a firehouse in New York where many brave men lost their lives on September 11th, 2001.