The Boss rocks out for charity in the Sandy relief concert movie "12-12-12." Credit: Robert Caplin
'12-12-12' Director: Amir Bar-Lev Genre: Documentary Rating: R 3 (out of 5) Globes
If ever there was a critics-proof movie, it’s “12-12-12,” the film version of last year’s mega-concert to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief. Truly only a jerk would hurl negativity at a film whose entire box office is going to relief funds. But how about some mild skepticism? Or perhaps pointing out that the only thing making it required viewing is its intense generosity?
Now, now, no film that opens with Bruce Springsteen and ends with Paul McCartney reuniting what he can of Nirvana is inessential. Whittling down the show’s six hours to less than two, it aims to recapture the power of the night — or maybe even do it slightly better, given the inclusion of actual hurricane footage and the occasional cutaway to rampaged Red Hook, where denizens watch the show at a recently reopened bar.
But it doesn’t capture the feeling, and it mostly feels perfunctory. But how could it not? The concert was a had-to-be-there affair — not live at Madison Square Garden, per se, but in front of a TV or staring at a livestream on your laptop while tweeting about Quentin Tarantino’s Kangol hat. The film offers a backstage pass, some of it useful: Speaking of Tarantino, he’s shown stopping Jesse Jackson in the hall and — being Quentin — naturally telling him, “I loved you in ‘Wattstax!’”
Thing is, “Wattstax” — a 1973 soul music showcase commemorating another landmark event, the 1965 Watts riots — is the dynamic film this isn’t, one that bristles over with powerhouse performances and righteous anger. “Wattstax” has at-his-peak Isaac Hayes and cutaways to Richard Pryor; “12-12-12” has Roger Waters shuffling through his millionth iteration of “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” and lots of McCartney hanging in his green room. (It also features plenty of topical lyric changes, some of which — e.g., The Who substituting “New York wasteland” for “teenage wasteland” in “Baba O’Riley” — must have seemed less questionable at the time.)
Of course, “12-12-12” is still moving, tuneful and even joyful. On one hand, it features too much of the only marginally interesting set-up and a stretch involving a catastrophic server malfunction that cut off a large part of its fundraising at the peak of the night. On the other, it may go down in history as the film where a rarely goofier Jesse Jackson giggles like a schoolgirl. As a movie it’s slightly better than it had to be, considering it’s a work of charity, and that’s good enough.