‘12-12-12’: Blowing Sandy away

November 13, 2013

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Amir Bar-Lev and Charlie Lightening’s new film, “12-12-12” would be worth seeing if only for the moment where James Dolan loses his temper because of a technical glitch.

Any New York Knicks fan can offer a laundry list of Dolan’s contumelies as the team’s owner. He’s one of those larger-than-life figures who, it seems, is as in love with himself as he is hated by his constituency, for his wrong-headed, ego-driven management of that beloved team.

So schadenfreude kicks in a little bit about halfway through “12-12-12,” the new documentary about how the massive Hurricane Sandy benefit concert at Madison Square Garden was put together last year. At one point, an hour or so into the concert, which was broadcast live on HBO, Internet donations to the concert’s website suddenly dropped from $40,000 a minute to $4,000 a minute.

Dolan and co-organizer Harvey Weinstein stare impatiently at a laptop, as a techie explains that donation volume seems to have incapacitated the servers, preventing people from logging on and donating. Dolan gets angrier and angrier, at one point threatening someone on the phone to take every dollar lost out of the ISP’s own pocket.

The oddly tanned Dolan almost has little wisps of steam coming out of his ears – until Weinstein spots Eric Schmidt, head of Google, who’s wandering around backstage – and presto, the problem is fixed. Dolan, meanwhile, ends up looking petulant and impotent.

There are a handful of moments like this in “12-12-12,” a movie that’s as much about the concert itself as what went into its planning and production. You don’t get a lot of information about the event, so much as an initial organizing meeting and a lot of backstage footage.

What Bar-Lev and Lightening do best is picking tunes from individual bands’ sets that resonate with the catastrophe itself. As Bruce Springsteen sings “My City in Ruins,” we get footage of the storm; the same with Billy Joel’s prescient “Miami 2017 (I’ve Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway),” written 40 years ago. As Eric Clapton charges through “Got to Get Better in a Little While,” we see scenes of rescue and relief workers already at work in Brooklyn, New Jersey and Long Island.

As Mick Jagger notes when the Rolling Stones take the stage to sing “Jumping Jack Flash” (“I was born in a crossfire hurricane”), “This is the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled.”

Sure enough – it’s not just the aging Stones, but Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, The Who (really, just an open-shirted Roger Daltrey and windmilling Pete Townshend) and Sir Paul McCartney.

McCartney seems ageless. Seen backstage, he’s as at ease chatting up Alicia Keys (who loves his daughter’s fashions) as he is casually leading his band in an a capella version of “The Monkees” theme song.

Just when “12-12-12” begins to feel flimsy, the directors will bring it back to reality: the people who were left homeless or otherwise dramatically affected by Sandy. Yet the film focuses on the spirit of cooperation and inclusiveness that seemed to kick in almost immediately, rather than dwelling on the tragedies. Not that they go unmentioned, but this isn’t a movie about victims – it’s a movie about surviving and coming back.

In a society that seems more and more about getting your own and finding someone else to blame, that’s what makes “12-12-12” – the movie and the events it chronicles – so compelling.

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