Review: 12-12-12, Enjoyable, Musically Interesting, and Cinematically Satisfying

Jason Gorber, Featured Critic

The concert documentary 12/12/12 does a great job of situating the event within a larger context.

A show intended to benefit those afflicted by Hurricane Sandy, this was modeled after the 9/11 concert that was in part organized by Hollywood honcho Harvey Weinstein. Combined with the heads of Clear Channel (John Sykes) and Madison Square Garden (Jim Dolan), these three producers and their team pulled off a massive show on very short notice.

Directors Amir bar Lev and Charlie Lighting, together with their editors, manage something really quite extraordinary, doing a fabulous job of making it feel like a real-time unfolding of the show. Cutting between the stage, backstage, and in various locations such as local bars, as audience members we're made to feel a kind of omniscience towards the event.

For me, the musical acts are within my comfort zone, but dredging up dinorock isn't just for show -- after all, they were selling tickets for $25,000 apiece for some of the seats -- the goal is to appeal to them, not to make some musical statement.

Independent of the music, there are again some terrific documentary moments. When things go awry with the donation system's capacity, Weinstein calls on audience member (and Google CEO) Erik Schmidt to lend a hand. One calming phone call later, and things are running smoothly again. It's almost eerie to see this take place, like watching the Godfather in his taciturn way give a direction that can't be refused. More importantly, it demonstrates both executive competence and the kind of supreme confidence earned by being really good at what one does. If you ever want to see how a Hollywood or business tycoon gets things done, this film provides a unique insight.

Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and other titans of classic rock take to the stage, but they're equally engaging backstage as well. There are plenty of tiny moments that prove charming, in addition to the many other celebrities who were assisting with the phone banks. Outside the venue, there's a strong sense of community, and the way these elements are all tied to the whole is the film's biggest strength.

The film does not reach the pantheon of the great concert docs, but in its own way demonstrates how things can be done in an enjoyable, musically interesting, and cinematically satisfying manner. The documentation of the 12/12/12 concert far surpasses expectations, providing real and unique insight into this kind of event, even approaching such classics as Woodstock for a genuine sense of the character of a time and place.

Let's be clear, the event itself is hardly a generational definer, but shows that with care and skill a concert documentary can be more than just a series of shots from a band on stage, it can operate as a great film on its own.


Review originally published in somewhat different form during the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2013. The film opens in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, November 15. Visit the official Facebook page for more information,

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