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Paul McCartney: Freedom (live in NYC)

Whether you like Paul McCartney's music or not, this doco helmed by Albert Maysles (of the famous Maysles Brothers who did the Stones Gimme Shelter among dozens of other tracking-camera docos) takes you into the discomforts of enormous fame of the kind that makes other famous people nervous in his company.

Among the passing parade of celebs and handshakers are Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton and James Taylor (all of whom appear relatively at ease), Bill Clinton (as charming as ever) and then the nervous ones like Dan Rather (who keeps McCartney waiting 10 minutes for an interview and gets a couple of sharp barbs), Howard Stern, an overwhelmed Ozzy Osbourne who had never met his hero, Harrison Ford (who is like a dead fish and with about as much personality), Leonardo DiCaprio (bad hair tied back) and many many more.

Then there are the people on New York's streets who seem satisfied just walking up and shaking his hand, others are clearly star-struck ("My God, it's Paul McCartney!") and a guy who seems to be hustling him for money or something. McCartney deals with all these people with equanimity, but extricates himself as quickly from the famous as he does from those wanting autographs.

And he has his radar working full time noting a taxi following too close, telling his driver George to "put a bit of distance" and "catch this light" to get away.

As an insight into some small part of that closed world of fame, interviews, rehearsals and then a performance this 95 minute feature is revealing, especially in its small details.

The reason for all this happened way back in 2001, six weeks after the attacks on 9/11. McCartney was on the tarmac ready to fly out to Britain when the first plane hit one of the Twin Towers and so they were prevented from flying.

As someone who first visited New York in 1964 -- and what a cultural change happened then when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show! -- he decided to swing in behind a major concert being planned to raise funds for the families of fire-fighters, police and emergency workers.

McCartney had orignally planned his own smaller show but was persuaded by Harvey Weinstein to join the other . . . and immediately became the chief attraction.

And so he did press interviews, walked the streets, sat for television interviews and engaged in a couple of days of rehearsals during which he "auditioned" a new song.

McCartney is very funny when recounting some of this (he is an excellent mimic) but you also get that sense also he is on duty the whole time, even when waiting in lobbies or elevators and humming nervously.

Newly widowed and looking a weary 59-year old, he had been around long enough to give people exactly what they want from a brief encounter: a handshake, an autograph (he can spot the e-Bay hunters), a quip or an anecdote.

And for many he is still that Beatle who shook their world on that first American tour (also filmed by the Maysles Brothers for the docos The Beatles: The First US Visit and What's Happening! The Beatles in the USA).

At the time of this concert however he was just about to release his Driving Rain album, but for the concert he played mostly what people wanted from Beatle Paul, and recorded live that new song Freedom which was quickly added to the album (it is uncredited on the cover of early pressings).

As this doco shows, he is good at giving people what they want and keeping a lot of things back, which seems sensible. Especially when you see the response his presence brings out in people.

The days McCartney -- like Mick Jagger who seems to be curating the Stones selective reissue programme -- is well aware of his legacy and in recent times has repositioned himself outside the shadow of the much mythologised John Lennon.

That might explain why this doco has taken so long to appear. Interestingly, he'd already met and was smitten by Heather Mills at this time (Driving Rain has a track Heather) but if she was there, she is nowhere to be seen here.

It would be very interesting to see another doco of what his life is like now when the touring and recording has been much more sporadic. What does he do all day?

I suspect he just keeps on being Paul McCartney. And looking at this film you might reasonably conclude, that's actually enough. 

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