George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese | 210 minutes | biography, documentary | Starring: Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jane Birkin, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Phil Spector, Yoko Ono, Pattie Boyd, Dhani Harrison, Ravi Shankar, Olivia Harrison, Jeff Lynne, George Martin, Jackie Stewart, Klaus Voormann, Ray Cooper, Jim Keltner, Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall, Astrid Kirchherr, Derek Taylor
He was called the silent Beatle, the man who never quite emerged from the shadows of his illustrious bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Unlike drummer Ringo Starr, guitarist George Harrison struggled with that minor role. And that was not entirely unjustified, since Harrison was at least as talented a musician as Lennon and McCartney. Some of the most beautiful Beatle songs, such as ‘Something’, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun’ were written by him. Still, even or perhaps in the years following the breakup of The Beatles, Harrison remained the most mysterious of the Fab Four. In the documentary ‘George Harrison: Living in the Material World’ (2011), Martin Scorsese tries to unravel that mystery. In this 210-minute film, the silent Beatle finally comes to the fore.
Scorsese divides Harrison’s life and career into two parts: on the one hand there is the time with The Beatles, on the other life after. The first part, set during the 1960s, uses unique footage, sound clips and interviews with those directly involved to show how The Beatles developed from teenage musicians to absolute global stars. Images of their first successes in Hamburg soon give way to outright Beatlemania. The story about the four boys from Liverpool may be well known, but Scorsese manages – partly thanks to never-before-seen archive material – to convey it in such a way that you are captivated to watch and listen. He managed to get illustrious speakers in front of his camera, people who sat in the front row. Of course the living Beatles Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, but also producer George Martin, colleague Eric Clapton and the German artists Klaus Voormann and Astrid Kirchherr, who experienced the rise of The Beatles from Hamburg up close. What appeals most to the imagination, however, are diary and letter fragments by Harrison himself and his own recordings from the studio.
After the breakup of The Beatles, we see George becoming increasingly captivated by Indian religious movements such as Hare Krishna. The word that is central in the second part of the documentary is therefore spirituality. About his meeting with Indian musician Ravi Shankar, Harrison says, “He’s the first person I was impressed with.” His solo career, launched in the early 1970s, is characterized by songs that often incorporate mantras. The Bangladesh concert, the first major benefit concert ever given, is just about his last musical highlight, because after that his private life is the main topic of discussion: the divorce from Patty Boyd, who had fallen in love with his good friend Eric Clapton, and his second marriage to the Mexican Olivia, with whom he had son Dhani (who, by the way, resembles his father like two drops of water). It is remarkable that there is hardly a cross word. His extramarital relations (with, among others, Ringo’s first wife) remain unspoken and Voormann’s predilection for cocaine is only lightly touched upon. Furthermore, the focus is mainly on his impressive group of friends (some of whom are mentioned), his hobbies (he produced Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’, raced with Jackie Stewart in fast cars and was a passionate gardener) and his spirituality. Every now and then he ventured into new musical projects, such as the supergroup The Traveling Willbury’s, with Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison, among others.
For fans of The Beatles, this documentary is a great addition to their collection, although they won’t learn anything they didn’t already know. Because even after seeing ‘Living in the Material World’, George Harrison remains a mystery, a man of extremes. Multimillionaire on the one hand, anti-materialist on the other. On the one hand very spiritual, on the other hand receptive to very earthly pleasures. Scorsese, as we are used to from him, dives deep into his subject and manages not only to dig up interesting archive material, but also to get the biggest names in front of his camera. With this film he made a beautiful life document, in which we have long had the idea of getting to know George Harrison a little better, although it is mainly praise and veneration and a counter-voice (or a slightly more realistic angle) would not have been out of place. we, when Olivia talks about her husband’s death, are back to square one. Her Hindu approach to death (which does not mean the end, but marks a transition) is somewhat anticlimactic after more than 200 minutes of worshiping the man who will forever bear the stamp of ‘the silent Beatle’. Nevertheless, this documentary is an impressive work that is indispensable in the film collection of any music lover.
George Harrison: Living in the Material World will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on November 9, 2011.