Wednesday, February 22, 2012


This is an odd thing to be holding onto for over a decade.  You might recall that in the aftermath of 9/11, McCartney headlined a charity fundraiser called A Concert For New York City, plus debuted and then released his musical answer to the attack, called Freedom.  McCartney had been on the tarmac in NYC when the Twin Towers were hit, watching the fire from the plane window.  He felt he needed to do something, to help, to give back.

For reasons unclear, McCartney quickly brought in famed documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, who had shot The Beatles and the Stones in the '60's.  Maysles follows McCartney in the days and hours leading up to the concert, as he does tons of press interviews (Dan Rather, Howard Stern), meets grieving firefighters and police officers, and even walks down the street, signing autographs.  McCartney figures if he makes himself available, over mass media or in person, he might be able to give some strength back to the people of New York.  So far, so good.

The trouble is, it's McCartney, who always seems a little self-serving even in the most charitable of moments.  We see him trying to sell the idea of performing his new Freedom song at the concert to such luminaries as Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend, who simply say okay, as even they know the pecking order of rock stardom.  It's unclear whether McCartney's pushing his song because he thinks it's worthy, or because ...well, let's not go there and give him the benefit of the doubt.  But there was an awful lot of press at the time about this new song that he'd written and would debut.  Perhaps that's why Maysles was brought on board.  Even when he's greeting firefighters who lost brothers and colleagues, the film is always centered on him.  Why dwell on a lengthy scene in the limo of McCartney trying to avoid persistent autograph hounds, the ones he knows are just going to sell the signature on eBay?  What, in the end, does this have to do with the behind-the-scenes look at the concert?  In truth, this is a behind-the-scenes look at a week of being McCartney, albeit an exceptional one.

It is quite fascinating to see how it works backstage, as celebs drop by for hugs, from James Taylor to Elton John to Bill Clinton.  Maysles also knows how to capture moments that give us true insight, such as what happens before and after interviews with the likes of Rather and lesser, fawning lights.  But for some reason, the footage captured of the rehearsals, and the concert, is flatly recorded, and makes poor use of better audio sources.  I saw that concert on TV, and remember it being exciting, emotional, cathartic, everything a rock show could be at such a time.  The Who, especially, gave one of their greatest performances in a city that had always loved them.  Billy Joel in his hometown, was tremendous.  Maysles barely captures any of this, which to me, was a historic night.  I just don't get that from this 90-minute doc.  I do remember thinking at the time though, at the very end of the show, how much that McCartney song Freedom sucked.  Ten years later, it still sucks.  However, hats off to him, McCartney did have a lot of effect on the people of New York City then, and his weight in the rock world brought a ton of other stars to the city in its time of need.

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