Earlier this week, Alicia Keys presented "12-12-12" at the Ziegfeld Theater to a New York audience, who reportedly "clapped, cheered and swayed their heads to the music." With a line-up including Keys, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, The Who, Kanye West, Billy Joel, Jon Bon Jovi, Chris Martin, Michael Stipe, Roger Waters, Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, and more, the film has one of the best soundtracks of the year. Opening in limited release today, the film captures the spirit of 12-12-12, the Hurricane Sandy relief concert—a quickly made, star-studded event for a great cause.
Directed by Amir Bar-Lev ("The Tillman Story," "My Kid Could Paint That") and Charlie Lightening ("Kasabian Live! Live at the O2"), the documentary offers snapshots of the concert and its behind-the-scenes happenings along with those affected by Hurricane Sandy. The film begins in late October with roughly five minutes of Hurricane Sandy footage on the Jersey Shore and in New York City, from people’s beach houses to fires breaking out to strangers singing Gnarls Barkley‘s "Crazy" together in the dark to streets flooded. Fast forward to early December, and Harvey Weinstein (Co-Chairman of The Weinstein Company), John Sykes (President of Clear Channel), Jim Dolan (Executive Chairman of Madison Square Garden) and David Saltzman (Executive Director of Robin Hood Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation) hold a press conference; the ball had already started rolling, or as Dolan describes the 3½ weeks of organizing the event, "harnessing the chaos."
From there, "12-12-12" follows a pretty standard structure of rehearsals and the concert spliced with behind-the-scenes action and commentary along with footage of Hurricane Sandy victims and relief efforts. This isn’t as in-depth as say "The September Issue" or "This Is It," but there’s a clear sense of the head production team doing their darnedest to get as many big names and as much money for the Robin Hood Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation as humanly possible. Weinstein calls up his buddy Sir Paul, who then becomes "the lynchpin" of the talent roster, reaching out to Dave Grohl and more with others signing on once they hear McCartney is involved. During technical difficulties with the event’s webpage, Dolan threatens that he will hold the support team accountable for every dollar that is lost. They enlist Eric Schmidt (yes, the Google founder) from the audience to help out.
Watching these honchos use their power and clout may be a bit disconcerting for those not in such lofty socioeconomic positions, but as Patrick Stewart said recently, "People will not listen unless you are an old, white man, so I’m an old white man and I will use that to help people who need it." Similarly, these are a bunch of old, white men and their teams orchestrating a massive worldwide event to help an underrepresented group that needs this help.
Though the focus is on the concert, the film still gives a strong sense of those affected by Hurricane Sandy through footage and interviews. Interviewees include the policemen, nurses and others who with their out-of-this-world bravery and perseverance helped their communities through the storm, even as they knew their own homes were being destroyed by wind, rain, and/or fire. At the concert, the filmmakers cut away to these same men and women enjoying themselves, with one policeman overcome by seeing Eddie Vedder, his all-time favorite musician, on stage with Pink Floyd. Don’t worry, they don’t tug too much or too long at the heartstrings as the film also includes cut aways to the celebrities. We get to some neat off-the-cuff moments, from Michael Stipe encouraging Chris Martin to join in more for "Losing My Religion" to Jimmy Fallon describing the backstage hallway as his iPod to Billy Crystal saying it was nice not to be the oldest on the line-up, referring to the Stones.
With all of these elements, "12-12-12" becomes more than a concert movie or a behind-the-scenes documentary, but the big picture of the concert and its cause. The filmmakers don’t sentimentalize but neither do they overlook the people for whom they’re fundraising. Cinematically, it would have been nice to see more of the machinations behind the scenes (keep an eye out for the conducting talents of the event’s broadcast director) and some more of the less public-friendly moments, but we can see why they chose not to go that direction for a number of reasons—the most optimistic being that such clips would have ultimately detracted from the overall narrative of a fundraising event and its cause. Laced with familiar tunes and faces, "12-12-12" isn’t revelatory, but it is a fun watch, paced well with a great soundtrack. [B]