Monday, November 07, 2011

Maysles and McCartney: The Love We Make

This is not the Beatles reunion everyone continues to hope for, but it is still quite notable. In 1964, Albert Maysles and his filmmaker brother documented Paul McCartney and three other young chaps from Liverpool on their first American tour in What’s Happenning! The Beatles in the USA. By late 2001, much had changed for the Beatles, the Maysles Brothers, and America. Six weeks after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Albert Maysles once again followed McCartney as he spearheaded the all-star Concert for New York City at Madison Square Garden. Again shooting in glorious black-and-white, the senior Maysles (with co-director Bradley Kaplan and editor Ian Markiewicz) revisits his old subject at the peak of his prestige (before that rather unfortunate second marriage) in The Love We Make (trailer here), which starts its premiere theatrical engagement this Wednesday at Film Forum.

McCartney was in the process of returning home from New York on that fateful day in September, when his plane was suddenly grounded. He was here for the immediate aftermath and it clearly made an impression on him (as it did all people of good conscience). Not wanting to get in the way of real emergency responders, he avoided Ground Zero (unlike many gawkers), but he still wanted to do something constructive.

Following the example of fellow Beatle George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, McCartney became the public face and chief recruiter of the Concert for New York City. Wisely, co-founder Harvey Weinstein himself kept out of the spotlight (but there is a brief awkward exchange between him and Maysles that suggests the two men might have some history together.)

It is clearly good to be a Beatle. Fast approaching sixty at the time, McCartney still has some of the impishness we remember from the Maysleses’ 1964 film and A Hard Day’s Night. We half expect him to start talking about what a “clean old man” his grandfather is. Yet, he is well aware of the seriousness of the time. In a more reflective moment, he speaks rather candidly about instances when he would put his pacifist beliefs on hold, clearly implying that now might be such a time.

The Concert was an all-star affair, but Love We Make is McCartney’s show, despite the parade of celebrities and politicians that gets somewhat tiresome down the stretch (does anyone really want to hear what Tom Daschle has to say in the green room?). He is the Beatle after all, so understandably, the longest musical selection heard in the film is his rousing closer “Freedom,” written days after the attack. Pitch-perfect for the night, Sir Paul has evidently since become a tad uncomfortable with the implications of his lyrics, which speak of “fighting” for our “God given right” “to live in freedom.” That is too bad, considering it is his best song since perhaps the days of Wings.

Mayles’ focus on McCartney, a skilled diplomat to be sure, allows him to ignore some of the gaffes of the night, such as Susan Sarandon’s pitch for Mark Green’s mayoralty campaign and the resulting boos it drew. Like Paul Crowder & Jon Small’s Last Play at Shea (in which both McCartney and Billy Joel appear), Maysles nicely captures the emotional connection between the audience and particular songs. McCartney’s “Let It Be,” another commonality in both films, is an apt example. His black-and-white cinematography also well conveys the urgency and camaraderie of that brief moment in time when rock-stars allowed themselves to be patriotic. Already a nostalgic film, Love We Make is definitely recommended when it opens this Wednesday (11/9) in New York at Film Forum (with a pay cable run on Showtime to follow).