In a New York State of Mind
The Love We Make begins 9/12/01 with Paul McCartney recalling the day before. “I was here in America, for my kid’s birthday party on Nantucket” and already on the airport runway when flights were canceled. Witnessing the shock and damage back in the City, he felt himself a citizen too, not only for the thirty years with Linda Eastman but for his familiarity with New York since the Fab Four’s first U.S. tour. Having lived England’s state of mind during the Blitz, when his dad served as a fireman, and its insecurity in the postwar, he realized the vulnerability and need people felt. Thus was conceived the Concert for New York City, at Madison Square Garden only weeks afterwards, a benefit for spirit and solidarity as much as cash, for victims, their families, first responders, the nation and the world.
Onstage one-time-only concert footage is in color, with television’s captions below, but comprises only snippets of rock’s ultra-famous doing their thing and is backseat, for this is not rockumentary. Directors Albert Maysles (also DP) and Bradley Kaplan’s (also producer) ninety-four minutes is 16mm black-and-white like Albert and brother David’s What’s Happening! The Beatles in the USA on that benchmark first trip.
Refreshingly back to vérité/direct cinema, the documentary does not open with jazzy credits and concludes with simple ones with no lazy printed summaries of down-the-road for participants and proceeds. There are no subtitle identifications or narration, so one either recognizes faces or picks up names like those of designer daughter Stella McCartney or driver George from unstaged conversations.
Maysles is mentioned twice, when McCartney points him out and gestures towards the fly-on-the-wall lens; otherwise the camera is a non-presence, though it shows the press snapping away. Nor is there any prompting voice from behind the camera. A grilling on Howard Stern’s radio program, two or three informal, naturally incorporated rehearsal-space interviews and a couple of televised ones by recognizable hosts, are cut to only seconds long. Only two unobtrusive four letter-words are caught, there are no artsy close-ups of lips set on devouring mics or pans of swaying groundlings; limited audience footage is overwhelmingly of fire- and police-department members in uniform and solidarity, McCartney and his band reciprocatingly wearing hook-and-ladder company tee-shirts.
Some of the concert is briefly in black-and-white on the small TV set the stars watch in a waiting room. Many of the entertainers and politicians are not onstage at all but dropping by to thank, congratulate and reminisce with the still youthful ex-Beatle. Most of the faces are unknown, as in intercuts he walks along shaking hands with street vendors and passersby -- one tries to wheedle fare to his home abroad -- signing autographs, posing for photos, greeting someone’s wife Laura on a mobile phone, or gives chauffeur George knowledgeable directions to avoid massed fans and the curious.
A portion is given over to rushed but relaxed rehearsals. Exhibiting a knowledge of musical standards, Sir Paul -- he laughs the one time the title is used -- talks on a variety of subjects, including a take that neither the Beatles nor Wings attempts reunion concerts because, without John and Linda, they could not be the same bands.
Less dryly comic than Ringo or cuttingly hilarious than John – LennonNYC -- he appears more comfortable in public skin than George -- George Harrison: Living in the Material World. Some slam his post-1970 output as light pop nevertheless tuneful commercial, but if the man comes across a tad bland in this documentary, that is in thoughtful measured contrast to the egos hanging from the woodwork.
James Taylor is deferentially awed by this icon who he recounts gave him his initial leg upwards, and the focus is more on that man than the concert he generously organized with his time, effort and influence. A measure of McCartney’s goodness and of his empathy with his second home, the result was an early first step towards healing wounds and restoring hope. Ironically, so soon after 9/11, New Yorkers were too distracted to be as aware of it as were those in other places. Running counter-style to the flood of cookie-cutter non-fictions, The Love We Make is a reminder of love and fellow-feeling in a time of tragedy.
(Released by Eagle Rock Entertainment/Maysles Films; not rated by MPAA.)