The Love We Make: Toronto Review

Courtesy of Showtime
A lovingly made account of Paul McCartney’s mission to boost morale in New York City in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The documentary centers on Paul McCartney's mission to boost New York City morale after Sept. 11, 2001.

In What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A., Albert Maysles and his late brother David trailed the Fab Four with their cameras during the group’s now-legendary five-day first visit to the country in 1964 to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. There’s poignant full-circle continuity in the fact that almost 40 years later, Maysles again trained his lens on Paul McCartney at another defining moment in New York City history, tenderly documented in The Love We Make.

McCartney was taxiing on a JFK runway on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when the pilot alerted passengers that due to what then appeared to be a major accident in Lower Manhattan, the plane would be forced to return to the terminal. As the magnitude of what had occurred that day became clear, McCartney began to think of what he could do to help comfort Americans, and New Yorkers in particular, made so violently aware of their vulnerability. Those thoughts led to the Concert for New York City, which galvanized a remarkably starry lineup to perform on Oct. 20 of that year.

Maysles followed McCartney in the weeks leading up to the charity event, shooting on gorgeous, grainy black and white 16mm, just as he had on the Beatles film. But the material required some distance from the 9/11 attacks, only now coming together ten years later in collaboration with Maysles’ co-director Bradley Kaplan and editor Ian Markiewicz. It bows on Showtime Sept. 10.

As a recap of the concert itself, the film is extremely moving, showing footage of uniformed cops and firefighters holding photographs of their dead colleagues while singing along with tears in their eyes to Elton John doing “Your Song,” James Taylor doing “Fire and Rain,” or McCartney performing a lovely string-quartet reworking of “Yesterday.” No less stirring are the shots of uniformed men and women rocking out to The Who singing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” or Mick Jagger and Keith Richards powering through “Miss You.” Familiar songs take on fresh significance in this context.

There’s also intimate access backstage before and during the event, offering candid moments with Bill Clinton, Eric Clapton, Jim Carey, Billy Joel andHarrison Ford, among many others. It’s sweet to see Stella McCartney confess to her dad that she’s “a huge Bon Jovi fan” before rushing out to watch the band perform “Wanted Dead or Alive,” or share her excitement about seeing Ringo Starr’s son Zak Starkey play drums for The Who.

The Maysles set the cinema verite standard with their ability to get close to their subjects simply via canny observation without intrusion. That tradition is honored here above all in the unguarded glimpses of McCartney himself. Through a heavy schedule of television and radio interviews, each one requiring him to navigate streams of fans waiting outside, McCartney remains gracious and affable. There’s obvious warmth in his rapport with his band during rehearsals, and with his driver, clearly accustomed to facilitating swift escapes from over-eager well-wishers.

Walking down Manhattan streets, McCartney is greeted like an old friend by strangers. Even when that absence of boundaries rattles his nerves, he gives the impression of a man happy to make connections and entirely comfortable with a level of fame that would condition most people to put up stronger barriers.

While the documentary stops short of hagiography, it offers a delicate portrait of a man with an extraordinarily youthful energy and enthusiasm for music, people and life. The film’s final moments capture a low-key conversation with a group of Chinatown firefighters in which McCartney shares a recollection of his father. This snapshot of humility and gratitude, as much as the concert, is eloquent evidence of what artists can do to honor the sacrifices of others.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Showtime)
Production company: Maysles Films
Directors: Bradley Kaplan, Albert Maysles
Producer: Bradley Kaplan, Laura Coxson, Susan Froemke, Ian Markiewicz, Katie Sorohan
Executive producer: Paul McCartney
Director of photography: Albert Maysles
Editor: Ian Marciewicz
No rating, 94 minutes.