In “The Love We Make,” Albert Maysles’ reliably relaxed and observant camera follows Paul McCartney around Gotham in the days leading up to and during the Concert for New York City in October 2001, benefiting survivors of 9/11’s fallen firemen, police and first responders. The former Beatle, a longtime Maysles friend, could have found no better documentarian. Lensed in splendidly grainy black-and-white 16mm (transferred to HD for digital projection), the image will certainly lose some of the impact felt on the bigscreen during Showtime Networks airdates starting Sept. 10.
Maysles (with his late brother David) began his ongoing interest in filming musicians — rockers, mostly — when the Beatles arrived in the U.S. in early 1964 and made a sensation on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” But because of his insistence on “direct cinema,” and his refusal to manipulate or stage events in front of the camera, the depiction of the Fab Four and other notables (from the Rolling Stones in “Gimme Shelter” to Brando doing a publicity junket in “Meet Marlon Brando”) gets as close as cinema may allow to viewing celebrities in their natural skin.
With co-director Bradley Kaplan, Maysles strives to be as invisible as possible while McCartney preps for the concert, rehearsing material with his bandmates Abe Laboriel Jr. (drums), Gabe Dixon (keyboards, vocals) and Rusty Anderson (guitar, vocals), or handles sit-down interviews with Dan Rather (at that time still with “60 Minutes”), Pat O’Brien (“E.T.” host, pre-scandal) and Howard Stern in his radio studio. This also allows Maysles to once again eschew serving as interviewer. It also provides the documaker with plenty of opportunities to examine the ways and means of the media, a subject of endless fascination for him.
Though sometimes hamming it up, McCartney exudes a boyish energy and a genuine excitement about the upcoming Madison Square Garden gig, so much so that it’s hard to believe the massive tragedy of 9/11 was only five weeks’ old at the time of shooting. This same geniality and high-spiritedness extend not only to some of McCartney’s fellow performers and hosts (such as James Taylor, Billy Joel, Jim Carrey and Pete Townshend), but to well-wishers he finds while walking the city’s streets, in a hilarious sequence ideal for Maysles’ love of the captured spontaneous moment.
Other famed well-wishers include Harrison Ford, Leonardo DiCaprio and a garrulous Bill Clinton, caught here backstage in perhaps the most natural state he’s ever been seen on film. The instant, unaffected charm Clinton radiates provides a sense of the human touch that made him such a formidable politician.
The concert material, pulled from the televised (color) broadcast, selects short highlights from various acts. It’s easy to tell which ones Maysles, Kaplan and editor Ian Markiewicz especially like, including David Bowie’s utterly original version of Paul Simon’s “America” on a toy musical instrument, and Joel in full-throated strength on “New York State of Mind.” For reasons unknown, Maysles — who made possibly the most powerful of all Stones films with “Gimme Shelter” — seems to have steered clear of Jagger and Keith Richards (who are glimpsed for a brief moment in the black-and-white footage, and rock out beautifully on “Miss You”) during filming, or they him.
Tech credits care of Maysles Films’ tiny unit are uniformly excellent, though unafraid of being as raw as possible.