A documentary providing an inside look at the organization and execution of the October 20th, 2001 Concert for New York could have been fascinating. The concert, arranged very quickly as a way to both pay tribute to and raise funds for the first responders of 9/11 and their families, was truly a monumental event. The amount of sheer star power that assembled (not just musicians but the actors and other celebrities that provided introductions) coupled with the emotionally charged atmosphere among the still-grieving audience resulted in a unique experience. The marathon five and a half hour concert was broadcast live and has since been released (albeit in edited form) on CD and DVD. It’s well worth the time if you haven’t yet seen it.
The Love We Make, newly available on Blu-ray from Eagle Rock Entertainment, is billed as “a chronicle of Paul McCartney’s cathartic journey through New York City in the aftermath of 9/11.” Make no mistake: this is a McCartney-centric piece that contains very little insight into the creative and organizational forces that made the Concert for New York a reality. Somehow the official story holds that McCartney was a co-organizer of the event, along with Harvey Weinstein. But the reality, at least based on what we see in this film, is that McCartney was in the midst of promoting an album when Weinstein asked if he would headline the concert.
While more or less continuing his promotional campaign, McCartney hired the celebrated documentarian Albert Maysles to capture a cinéma vérité account of his involvement with said concert. Maysles, with his late brother David, directed What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A. (much of which was repurposed for the currently in-print DVD The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit). Mayles co-directed The Love We Make with Bradley Kaplan. The result is a curious and ultimately frustrating hybrid of a true documentary and a promotional piece.
For a while, the documentary plays like a real-life remake of McCartney’s ill-conceived 1984 feature film Give My Regards to Broadstreet. As with the fictionalized version of himself in that movie, we see the generally agreeable McCartney going about his business. Interacting with fans, rehearsing with his band, being interviewed, making television appearances, being driven around the city – all normal aspects of McCartney’s daily existence. The frequent mentions of the previous month’s terrorist attack add some gravitas to the proceedings. But surprisingly, The Love We Make doesn’t incorporate the then-current events very well into its overall structure. By the final act, as the film devolves into a series of low resolution clips of the actual concert, there is an unfortunate self-congratulatory air to the whole thing.
For McCartney fans, the first hour provides some fascinating moments. Many of them center on the song McCartney wrote specifically for the concert, “Freedom.” This ditty is well below McCartney’s capabilities, but it seemed – to me at least – a fittingly simple sing-along piece to rally the audience. If he had left it as a one-time performance, he may not have been so unrelentingly punished for it over the past decade. But he rush-released it as a single, a music video, played it at the Super Bowl in 2002, and included it in his set list on the cross country “Back in the U.S.” tour. In other words, he elevated it to a level reserved only for McCartney’s stone cold classics. It is hard to understand his overwhelming pride in this rudimentary song, really no more complex than the very first one he wrote as a teenager, “I Lost My Little Girl.”
Watching The Love We Make, his embrace of one of his weakest compositions becomes even more perplexing. Throughout the film, McCartney seems driven to demo the song for anyone will to listen – adding at one point that he was going for a “Give Peace a Chance” type of vibe. We see him telling Eric Clapton that he felt like he was auditioning when he played “Freedom” for Mick Jagger. Tellingly, Jagger was absent from the all-star reprise of the song that closed the concert. For all of McCartney’s formidable talent, his Achilles heel is a seeming inability to tell the duds from the gems. By the end of the film one is left with the impression that, even though he repeatedly states that the song required no great effort to write, McCartney truly regards “Freedom” as a viable anthem. While I firmly believe the song itself is essentially inoffensive and was undeserving of the bashing it received, his enthusiasm for it becomes a little embarrassing.
Thankfully there are many other moments that are memorable for more positive reasons. It’s genuinely interesting to see McCartney trying to get away from an over-zealous fan who asks for career help. The rehearsal footage is fun, with McCartney seemingly in better voice backstage than he was for the actual concert. A raucous rehearsal of “I’m Down” is shown almost in its entirety. A run through of the then-new song “From a Lover to a Friend” suggests he never had much confidence in that tune (and pretty much any of his hits would’ve been a better choice to play that night). James Taylor, an early Apple records signee, reminisces with McCartney – who tells a charming anecdote that isn’t part of his well-rehearsed repertoire. Bill Clinton hobnobs with McCartney and Taylor backstage. These bits and pieces make The Love We Make worth checking out if you have any interest in McCartney.
It’s jarring when the film cuts back and forth between Mayles’ black & white footage and the pixilated standard definition video footage from the concert’s broadcast. By the final stretch of The Love We Make, I found myself wishing I was just watching the actual concert. Taking great performances (like David Bowie’s cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America,” Jagger and Richards doing “Miss You,” or anything from The Who’s powerhouse set) out of the larger context of the full concert does them no justice. There were so many memorable moments from that night, it feels trivializing to separate short snippets. Incidentally, in a somewhat ironic twist, the real highlight of McCartney’s poorly chosen set turns out to be the reprise of “Freedom.” It was one of the few times the audience seemed to truly connect with him in the same way they did with performers such as The Who, Billy Joel, and Elton John.
The Love We Make is presented with an aspect ratio 1.33:1 (since it was shot on 16mm film, that is the full frame) in 1080p high definition. The gritty Maysles black & white footage is quite beautiful. The natural film grain is prominent, adding a great deal of character to the documentary that high definition video does not have. Being filmed under a variety of natural lighting circumstances, the film often has a different look from scene to scene. But the Blu-ray does a superb job of representing it all accurately. As mentioned above, the standard definition video footage of the concert and McCartney’s TV appearances look utterly awful – but that’s not the fault of the Blu-ray format.
Audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital 5.1, and LPCM Stereo. The DTS-HD lossless track is the most highly recommended option. Most of the film doesn’t really require stunning audio, given its documentary nature, but there is enhanced clarity with the DTS track as well as richer detail in more subtle sounds. The rehearsal footage of McCartney and his band sounds fantastic, with a real full-bodied presence and plenty of LFE muscle.
Oddly there are no special features included with The Love We Make. It seems that finally presenting McCartney’s unedited set from the Concert for New York (the DVD omits “Lonely Road” and “From a Lover to a Friend”) would have been a natural here. I’m guessing there was probably some additional rehearsal footage that could’ve been included as well (the jokey “Fly Me to the Moon” rendition that is part of the proper film would’ve made a better outtake). What you get is simply the 94 minute film. McCartney buffs shouldn’t think twice before buying. Everyone else probably should.