In October 2001, Paul McCartney was in New York City for two reasons: to promote his new album, Driving Rain, and to organize a concert to honor the men and women of the NYPD and FDNY in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Albert Maysles, the documentarian who shot footage of The Beatles’ first visit to New York back in 1964, followed McCartney around again, and with his collaborator Bradley Kaplan, turned that material into the film The Love We Make, which in many ways is better for having spent 10 years marinating. Had the movie been completed and released soon after the events it documents, the focus might’ve been more on 9/11 and the city’s reaction to it. Instead, those circumstances are just the backdrop to what’s ostensibly a fly-on-the-wall look at what it’s like to be Paul McCartney.
Sometimes the gap between the approach and the subject matter is too wide. Maysles doesn’t question McCartney directly, and there’s no overt acknowledgment of how much time has passed since these events, which makes it strange when McCartney starts talking about how an event like 9/11 has him reconsidering pacifism, or when he rehearses his new patriotic anthem, “Freedom.” It’s hard not to wonder what the McCartney of 2011 has to say about where his head was at in 2001.
But it’s also fascinating to note the little reminders of what life was like in October ’01, from Dan Rather apologizing for being delayed by an anthrax scare to the non-baseball-fan McCartney keeping tabs on the Yankees. Some of the footage from the concert is moving too, such as The Who (with John Entwistle, who died in 2002) belting out “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and James Taylor bringing an arena full of cops and firefighters to tears with “Fire And Rain.” Mostly, though, the pleasure of The Love We Make comes from watching one of the most famous musicians in the world looking totally chill, whether he’s rehearsing with his band or casually chatting with Bill Clinton. Even McCartney’s constant touting of “Freedom” has a certain charm, as he corners the likes of Eric Clapton and Harrison Ford to tell them how awesome this song is going to be. Of course, they nod and smile. Hey, it’s Paul McCartney.