Sort of a concert film and sort of a making-of-the-concert, this backstage peek at the Hurricane Sandy fundraiser will disappoint music fans and documentary lovers alike
If you’re one of the many people who took to the Amazon.com page for the DVD version of last year’s 12-12-12 concert to complain that the home video of the Hurricane Sandy relief benefit left off too many of the songs, prepare for further disappointment from the big-screen “12-12-12” movie.
And if you already watched the concert when it aired on television and were hoping this movie might provide insight into the disaster of Sandy and how the money raised at this concert helped people, well, you’re out of luck, too.
“12-12-12” seems so unfocused in what it’s trying to convey that it winds up being both a little bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing.
Not that this is a story that lacks for drama: Just weeks after Sandy devastated the coastlines of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, a massive six-hour benefit concert was assembled at Madison Square Garden, featuring a bevy of A-list rockers. Funds raised by the event went to the Robin Hood Relief Fund to aid the people who lost their homes and belongings in the storm.
That concert was broadcast on television, so the movie clearly needed to find a unique way to revisit the event. And “12-12-12” works best when it shows us moments the TV cameras didn’t get while providing the context of Sandy’s devastation: one of the film’s most powerful moments comes when Billy Joel does a sound-check of his eerily prophetic “Miami 2017” (“I saw the lights go out on Broadway…They said that Queens could stay/They blew the Bronx away/And sank Manhattan out to sea”) over footage of the floods.
Another song that took on new meaning in the wake of Sandy, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s “My City in Ruins,” opens the film — and raises the bar to a level that the rest of the movie can’t match.
Instead, the film keeps coming back to Harvey Weinstein, making phone calls, fretting backstage, pulling a Google exec out of the audience to help with a glitch on the fundraising website. Yes, we get it, he’s a power broker with a heart of gold; his philanthropy would be easier to admire if the film wasn’t reminding us of it so frequently.
One of the other major event organizers was Clear Channel bigwig John Sykes, and that network’s brand of mainstream radio is reflected in the lineup, with Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Chris Martin (with Michael Stipe) and The Who getting the prime slots. But even these star fall prey to the editor here: songs by McCartney (who’s an executive producer of the film) and the Stones are included in their entirety — as is, bafflingly, “Sandy Screw Ya,” Adam Sandler’s jokey take on “Hallelujah” — but almost everyone else gets snipped.
Besides Alicia Keys, who emerges in the finale to perform “Empire State of Mind” with McCartney, the only other non-white performer in the show was Kanye West, whose appearance in the film is limited to about a minute of “Gold Digger.” (And if there isn’t already a Tumblr called “White People Dancing to Kanye,” there should be.)
With such a wealth of material to choose from, “12-12-12” delivers a few memorable moments, from phone-bank volunteer Tony Danza explaining the rest of the country’s support of the Sandy victims by citing “E Pluribus Unum” to interviews with first responders to McCartney singing “Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees” as he makes his way from his dressing room to the stage.
It’s what “12-12-12” doesn’t do that makes it so disappointing, from the truncated musical segments to the fact that, a year later, the movie doesn’t bother to show how the Robin Hood Foundation spent the millions of dollars raised by the benefit. (Seriously, they couldn’t find one beneficiary to interview?) The results feel like an infomercial for a multi-CD or DVD set that isn’t being sold.