Film Review: The Love We Make

Terrific star-packed documentary takes viewers onstage, backstage, into car-service back seats and onto New York streets with Paul McCartney just after 9/11 as he muses warmly and wisely and pulls together the landmark Madison Square Garden benefit roc

Hugely likeable, energetic and remarkably talented New York-based ex-Beatle Paul McCartney is the driving force (here also driven by salty old driver George) and emotional center of the decade-old footage that comprises cinéma-vérité vet Albert Maysles’ The Love We Make, which premiered on Sept. 10 on Showtime.

But even viewers who caught the program on the smaller screen will want to revisit it in all its big-screen/big-sound glory. The primary pleasure is the up-close look at McCartney, even at a delicate time just after 9/11 as he and the world were smarting from the tragedy. But there’s more to experience as the ex-Beatle tools around Manhattan and comforts New Yorkers only days after 9/11.

McCartney is generous with his fans, whom he easily greets on the streets and with kind thoughts, including an indisputable observation that rockers of the ’60s have aged rather brilliantly. But beyond McCartney’s warmth and candor are other rewards like unannounced visits by legendary friends (Elton John, Mick Jagger, James Taylor, Bill Clinton, Eric Clapton, et al.—it’s almost a yearbook of names, as much of the rock, media and political map is covered) and snippets of classic rock in live performance (“Yesterday,” “Let it Be,” “Your Song,” “New York State of Mind,” “Fire and Rain,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” etc.) that burst from the screen during the concert finale.

Vintage footage like that of The Beatles on their historic “Ed Sullivan Show” deserves note, as do the many star sightings including Ozzy Osbourne, Steve Buscemi, former New York governor George Pataki, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sheryl Crow and Paul’s daughter Stella. Beyond its endearing ex-Beatle portrait, The Love We Make is ultimately a behind-the-scenes concert film (“The Concert for New York City”) spawned by the unspeakable 9/11 tragedy and organized by McCartney.

Earliest scenes in the doc have McCartney talking about being stuck on the tarmac on the morning of 9/11 as his plane was about to take off for the U.K. No such luck. The realization of what was happening at the World Trade Center emerged, leaving McCartney stranded in the city. Grasping the horror and scale of the event, he immediately went to work planning a concert to soothe the populace and honor the dead. The city’s firemen were integral to his effort, since his father had been a firefighter during World War II.

The blessing of access also finds it place in The Love We Make: In 1964, Albert Maysles and his brother and longtime collaborator David (now deceased) filmed the Beatles for What’s Happening! The Beatles in the USA, their seminal portrait of the group's first American tour.

While McCartney is very much at the heart and ballast of this doc, it’s a whole other animal than HBO’s splendid, near-four-hour Scorsese bio-portrait of George Harrison. More modest in style and mostly shot in 16mm black-and-white, The Love We Make is like an audiovisual digital version of a bootleg recording. Its focus is not on The Beatles but on McCartney’s fine character and generosity, undiminished talent and energy, and splendid effort with partners Miramax (Harvey Weinstein most visibly), Cablevision, AOL, and VH1 to put on a show that would deliver comfort, hope and much-needed entertainment to a grieving community. Mission accomplished, viewers will agree; thanks to McCartney’s vision and the talent of all involved, it’s love they created on that October day at Madison Square Garden.

And is it politically incorrect to say that Paul here—a gent, a good bloke, a genius—also comes across as baby-face cute?