Eagle Rock Entertainment // 2011 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 19th, 2011
A chronicle of Paul McCartney's cathartic journey through New York City in the aftermath of 9/11.
The packaging for The Love We Make suggests an enormously somber, somewhat self-important affair. The declaration that the film will detail Paul McCartney's personal response to 9/11 combined with a series of stark black-and-white images cause one to suspect that they're in for a very downbeat affair, but nothing could be further from the truth. Surprisingly, The Love We Make is a joyful, enormously entertaining documentary that actually serves as a breath of fresh air in the midst of seemingly endless mournful, emotionally crushing 9/11 specials.
By no means am I suggesting that The Love We Make treats the tragedy in a trivial or flippant manner. Nor am I suggesting that it takes the potentially offensive, "Hey, let's look at the bright side!" approach taken by Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. Rather, it offers a moving, candid portrait of a famously chipper musician working diligently to bring joy to those who are suffering. Director Albert Maysles (responsible for some of the most famous early footage of the Beatles) ensures that the documentary never plays like a puff piece designed to inflate McCartney's ego; there aren't any talking heads waxing eloquent about what a great guy he is. Instead, the documentary mostly restricts itself to fly-on-the-wall footage and gives us a terrific sense of what daily life is like for a man of McCartney's stature.
Most of The Love We Make focuses on McCartney's efforts to help organize "The Concert for New York," as he quietly persuades an endless parade of esteemed musicians to participate in the effort. Music buffs will be in heaven, as the documentary gives us some glimpses of the kind of casual backstage chatter we aren't generally privy to: we see McCartney singing some suggested guitar riffs to Eric Clapton, reminiscing about days gone by with James Taylor, casually discussing recent anthrax scares with Dan Rather, awkwardly attempting to carry on a conversation with Harrison Ford and so on. However, the touching thing is that McCartney's demeanor never seems to change regardless of who's around him. He's just as warm and open with people who approach him on the street as with someone like Bill Clinton, and he always seems genuinely pleased to encounter fans and well-wishers ("I feel like I'm mayor of New York!" he beams after being assaulted by an autograph-hungry crowd). McCartney never has an unkind word to say about anyone; the closest he comes to getting stern is when he sighs in dismay at some of Howard Stern's on-air antics.
Maysles must have the power of invisibility, because I've rarely seen a documentary in which the participants seem so completely unaware of the camera (despite the fact that McCartney addresses Maysles directly on occasion, usually to pay him compliments in front of esteemed company). There are many moments in which we feel like we're listening in on very private conversations; it's one thing to see a CBS News interview and another thing to hear Dan Rather telling McCartney which portions of the interview worked best afterward. Not every documentarian could have captured much of the stuff Maysles captures in this film. The one guy who never fails to notice the camera: an amusing Harvey Weinstein, who glares suspiciously at Maysles each time the camera approaches.
The extended final act of the documentary takes place at the concert, and the manner in which everything comes together is rather moving. After a rather hectic, somewhat improvisational planning process, the actual event is beautifully executed. It's a moving display of solidarity, as one musical group after another transform well-known songs into patriotic anthems simply by tweaking the delivery (Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" has never seemed so defiant). It's also touching to see the casual development of the song McCartney performs with the crowd at the conclusion; it's a simple tune he intends to play only one time. As such, he simply casually describes the song to the other musicians who will be playing it with him, most of whom seem game for jumping into something they've never heard before. The final product is a little rough around the edges, but all the more affecting for that.
The Love We Make (Blu-ray) offers a fairly satisfying 1.33:1/1080p high definition transfer. Perhaps in an effort to give the doc an old-school vibe, Maysles shot the film in grainy, full frame black-and-white. The only moments of color which appear are bits of archival footage, but these actually look considerably worse than the rest of the film. While the image does sport an excessive amount of grain, detail is solid throughout and blacks are impressively deep. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio gets the job done well enough, though it should be stressed that this is very much a behind-the-scenes documentary and not a concert film. The musical sequences don't sound immersive or spectacular, but they're not really supposed to. Emphasis is on dialogue, which is generally captured very well despite that fact that much of it is distant, murmured or delivered in hushed tones. There are no supplements included on the disc.
The Love We Make is an essential watch for McCartney fans; easily the most revealing look at the musician I've seen to date. It also serves as a rather touching footnote to a terrible period in American history, as McCartney does all he can to help inspire people and make their lives a little better in the midst of tragedy.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated