Thursday, April 17, 2014

Paul McCartney's The Love We Make Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
It was one of the most emotional documentaries ever aired on the Showtime Cable Network.  Now, for the first time, on December 6, fans will have a chance to own The Love We Make, a look back at Sir Paul McCartney and his efforts to plan and perform a benefit concert in the aftermath of the worst day in the history of New York City.  The film is directed by Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter) and Bradley Kaplan, the film was shot in stark 16 mm black and white, complete with color concert clips.  The Love We Make juxtaposes dramatic images of “The Concert For New York City,” held mere months after 9/11, with scenes of McCartney himself as he walks the streets of the town that his former songwriting partner, John Lennon, loved so much.

Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 
Paul McCartney was sitting in a plane as it sat on a tarmac awaiting approval to take off when he witnessed firsthand the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.  From his vantage point he could see one of the twin towers on fire and then was shocked along with the rest of the nation when he heard of the other crashes.  McCartney had been headed back to England to be present for his daughter’s birthday party, but once the attacks happened, he remained in the United States because he wanted to help in some way.  Remembering stories that his parents and grandparents told him of how music and entertainment had helped with morale in bombed out London during WWII, he thought what had worked before could work again.  As he later said, ”There was a feeling of shock and fear in the air that I thought we could help alleviate with music and the fact that so many people stepped up to join us made for a very uplifting evening for us all.”
Thus, The Concert for New York City came to life.  Fortunately, others felt as McCartney did and they were eager to join him on stage to raise funds for the families of the lost firefighters and policemen who died trying to save the victims of the burning towers.  Just to give you an idea of just a sample of who was involved in the concert, it starred McCartney, The Who, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Billy Joel, Elton John, James Taylor, Janet Jackson, Bon Jovi, John Mellencamp, and Kid Rock among others.  The show also had plenty of stars and comedians too including Harrison Ford, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael J. Fox, Robert DeNiro, Jim Carrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Fallon, Billy Crystal and more.
Much like he did in 1964 when he and his brother David filmed the clamor of The Beatles first visit to America, Albert Maysles along with co-director Bradley Kaplan filmed the background of the concert in a cinéma vérité style of the concert coming together.  What makes The Love We Make so interesting is watching the genesis of the concert and how McCartney deals with the tragedy and how others react to seeing him walk the streets of New York without an entourage of bodyguards.  I can honestly say that watching him do that after what happened to John Lennon (in New York) and George (in his own home), made me nervous for him, especially when a apparently crazy homeless person wouldn’t let go of him.  How he is able to keep his cool is beyond me since the loss of his partner John Lennon can’t be too far from his mind.
Maysles does a great job showing us a day in the life of Paul McCartney as he follows the star from gig to gig which ranges from appearing on the Howard Stern show, interviewing with Dan Rather, and then rehearsing for the concert with his band.  We also witness the great respect the other celebrities and musicians have for McCartney as they constantly make their way to him to pay their respects as the show goes on.  It’s still impressive that even after all of these years of success and coming from the greatest and most successful band the world has ever seen, McCartney still seems grounded and genuinely friendly to the people he meets.  It’s apparent that he isn’t untouched by his fishbowl life since a couple of times during the movie, we see him instruct his driver to try to lose the paparazzi that follows him constantly, with him even jumping out of the car to escape through the park so he can have some alone time.
McCartney’s efforts weren’t in vain as the concert was a financial and emotional success.  It was touching to see the grieving families holding up pictures of their family that was lost due to their attacks during the show.  We also witness emotional firefighters and policemen thank McCartney and the others for their efforts and join in for the final song.  The concert lasted 5 1/2 hours and it not only improved morale for New York but also much of the world and raised over $35 million for the charities.  It was a blockbuster success and as McCartney said later, “It was an honor to be able to help New York and America at that time in its history.”  Not only does this documentary capture the massive humanitarian efforts made by McCartney and the others, but it also gives the viewers a better understanding of McCartney himself who as famous as he is, has somehow remained somewhat elusive through the years.  Thanks to Maysles film, we’ve gained a little more understanding of McCartney the man but also a reminder that this is the Beatle who once sang “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”  It’s nice to see that he still believes that.
Video (4 out of 5 stars) 
This 1080p (1.34:1) transfer is pretty impressive considering how many different sources the footage was assembled from.  The bulk of the documentary that was shot on black and white film by Albert Maysles looks sharp but it has a film-like grain that old school documentary fans will love.  There’s also some color film included during the Howard Stern segment and also during the concert itself that also looks pretty good.  The black and white film offers some very nice contrast and the detail of the picture is evident during close-ups.  The aged appearance of the black and white film may turn off some viewers, but I’m sure a lot of cinephiles will love it.
Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 
Three audio tracks have been recorded for this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English LPCM 2.0 and English Dolby Digital 5.1 and they all sound pretty good.  This is primarily a dialogue driven documentary (until the end concert) and appropriately enough, this is a front channel heavy mix.  There isn’t much difference between the tracks but I think they could have done a better job with this mix.  It’s fine for the talking scenes as the dialogue is delivered clearly and with no distortion, but the concert with the amount of talent assembled should be presented with a better mix than this one which doesn’t deliver the goods per se.  That’s fine for the documentary part but most people are going to expect the concert part of the mix to take it up a notch  which it does not.
Special Features (0 out of 5 stars) 
There are no special features on this disc which is too bad since that will drag down the final score.
Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars) 
The Beatles are my favorite band and Paul McCartney has always been my favorite Beatle, so my liking this was never really a concern.  However, The Love We Make isn’t just about Paul McCartney and his efforts to raise money for charity, but it’s also about New York City itself and it’s resilient residents.  This is a great documentary and I highly recommend it!
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