Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Martin Scorsese.
From Oscar winning director Martin Scorsese comes this epic, superbly crafted documentary exploring the personal and professional life, times and musical legacy of former Beatle George Harrison, who died in 2001. The youngest of the Beatles, Harrison’s own talents as a guitarist and songwriter were often overshadowed by Lennon and McCartney. It was only after the band split up that his abilities were recognised. Even Frank Sinatra called Harrison’s Something one of the greatest love songs written.
As with No Direction Home, his epic 208-minute 2005 documentary about Bob Dylan, Scorsese’s Living In The Material World is a revealing, comprehensive portrait of Harrison, and is essential viewing for fans. The film is also suffused with an obvious love for Harrison and his music, and there are plenty of familiar tunes sprinkled throughout the documentary. Indeed, it is easy to forget how many wonderful songs Harrison actually wrote.
The film has been painstaking researched. Scorsese draws upon a wealth of photographs, rarely seen archival footage, home videos, diary entries, and interviews to round out this picture of a gentle, humble, artistic man eternally searching for inner peace. There is no voice over narration. Rather, the intimate biographical details are teased out through a series of extensive, intimate interviews with Harrison himself, his wife of thirty years Olivia and his son Dhani. There are also wonderful anecdotes from the likes of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Terry Gilliam, and famed record producer Phil Spector, recorded before his arrest and well publicised murder trial.
What emerges is a picture of a self-effacing man, a consummate professional who approached everything he did with passion. There is plenty of information during the first part about the Beatles and their early years in the red light district of Berlin at the start of the 60’s, the overwhelming success of the band, and the creative tensions that eventually led to the split. The second part of the film looks in detail at Harrison’s fascination with Indian mysticism and spirituality, and the religious and spiritual transformation which would consume him in later years and shape much of his direction.
There is plenty of detail about his post-Beatles solo career, his reclusive nature, his collaborations with Ravi Shankar, and the Concert for Bangladesh which was the first celebrity organised star studded benefit concert. The film even looks at his involvement in the film industry through Handmade Films, the production company he set up to make films that he wanted to see. Through this company Harrison produced some of the classics of British cinema, including Life Of Brian, cult classic Withnail And I, and The Long Good Friday.
The film is so comprehensive that it even covers the time when Harrison was stabbed while fighting off a home invader just a couple of years before his death. However, Scorsese brushes over his drug use and his womanising, although the romantic triangle between himself, his first wife Patti and Eric Clapton is explored. It is a little surprising that there is not even a brief mention of the protracted legal proceedings over his song My Sweet Lord.
Like all good documentaries, Living In The Material World transcends its subject matter and has broad appeal, even to those who are not fans of Harrison or his music. Don’t be daunted by the 208-minute running time either. Living In The Material World is such a fascinating, engrossing, insightful, exhaustively researched and revealing documentary that you are not conscious of the length or the passing of time.