12-12-12: Film Review

While not exactly essential viewing, this concert doc is laudable for directing all of its proceeds to the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund.

Amir Bar-Lev and Charlie Lightening's documentary delivers a behind-the-scenes look at the star-studded concert at Madison Square Garden benefiting victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Part concert film, part behind-the-scenes documentary and part a sobering account of the devastating effects on the tri-state area of Hurricane Sandy, 12-12-12 concerns the massive benefit concert featuring a gallery of top music stars put on at Madison Square Garden to benefit the Robin Hood Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund. Moviegoers will be happy to know that all of the film’s proceeds will be similarly directed.

Featuring performances by such superstars as Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton and Roger Waters, among many others — “This has got to be the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled in Madison Square Garden,” cracked Mick Jagger — the televised concert was a marathon affair that lasted until the wee hours of the morning. The film necessarily omits large portions of the musical sets while providing enough highlights to please casual fans. And of course, most of the show is already available on DVD and CD.

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What Amir Bar-Lev and Charlie Lightening’s documentary provides that hasn’t been previously available is an amusing portrait of the backstage goings-on. A particularly priceless sequence depicts the concert promoters, including Harvey Weinstein, dealing with a technical snafu in which viewers were unable to access the website to make their donations. The problem seems insurmountable until the arrival of Google exec Eric Schmidt, who promptly whips out his cell phone and miraculously solves it within minutes.

Other amusing moments include Billy Joel singing impromptu lyrics about his helipad being flooded while rehearsing a number; Paul McCartney giddily singing the Monkees theme song while leading his band to the stage; Jake Gyllenhaal sheepishly handing his phone to another celebrity when a potential donor says she has no idea who he is; and Alicia Keys admitting to being thrilled when she's told that McCartney personally requested that she close the show with “Empire State of Mind.”

Musical highlights include Springsteen’s impassioned rendition of “Wrecking Ball”; Pete Townshend screaming “It’s only Sandy wasteland” in lieu of the usual refrain of “Baba O’Riley”;  Chris Martin and R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe teaming on “Losing My Religion”; McCartney performing with the surviving members of Nirvana; and Adam Sandler’s hilariously rewritten version of the Leonard Cohen warhorse “Hallelujah.”

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Less interesting is the recurring footage of Sandy survivors gathering in a funky bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to watch the show on television, although their personal stories add a necessary emotional element to the proceedings.

Technical credits are first-rate, with George Wieser’s cinematography and Ben Gold’s editing expertly providing a fly-on-the-wall perspective.

Production: The Weinstein Company, Madison Square Garden Company, Clear Channel Media Holdings
Directors: Amir Bar-Lev, Charlie Lightening
Producers: Meghan O’Hara, Alejandro Reyes-Knight, David Stekert, Nick Levis
Executive producers: Paul McCartney, Scott Roger
Director of photography: George Wieser
Editor: Ben Gold
Rated R, 105 minutes