If you only have room for one 9-11 video in your time capsule, you could do worse than The Making and Meaning of “We Are Family,“ a celeb benefit-record doc in which an entire year’s worth of E! True Hollywood stories re-record the Sister Sledge classic because dammit, that’s what they can do to help. It recaps the news footage (falling towers, victims’ families, volunteers, missing-person flyers, solidarity march, hate crimes), you get to hear the song a lot, and maybe in 50 years you won’t be completely galled by the idea that someone thought you cared what Spike Lee and Joan Osborne and Joel Grey think It All Means. Given that even SNL parodies of this genre are a cliché, the candlepower assembled here is astronomically absurd: How can you make a four-minute pop song with Diana Ross and Patti Labelle and Eartha Kitt and Roberta Flack and Ashford & Simpson and Phoebe Snow and Dionne Warwick (who gets to sing the line “As we walk on by”) and soeurs Sledge and Pointer, let alone Laurie Anderson, Afrika Bambaataa, Stephen Bishop, Jackson Browne, Bebe Buell, KC . . . ?
Of course, it’s not really about the music, or we wouldn’t see Milla and McEnroe, Montel and Maury, and, as he introduces himself, “Macaulay Culkin—family.” Co-composer Nile Rodgers tells his flock, “I can fix pitch and blah blah blah, but there’s no button on my computer that can give me vibe.” A few of the artists have it (Angie Stone, Angelique Kidjo, Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, Luther Vandross, Fred and Kate 52), and there are some electrifying fragments of the original’s making and its meaning to Rodgers and Chic-mate Bernard Edwards, to the ’79 Pirates, to the imprisoned Mandela and his guards, to recent MTA patrons. There’s even a little conflict near the end when brittle Joan Rivers backs out because she does not like that the project will benefit organizations promoting tolerance (“Fuck world peace!” she supposedly said). But it’s not enough drama to escape the emotional black hole created by juxtaposing kitsch and tragedy in such gross proportions. “If you see a short person, let them get up front so everyone can be seen,” Rosie Perez directs. Because otherwise what would be the point?