George Harrison: Living In The Material World
Reviewed by Neil Evans on 3 November 2011
Rated 9 out of 10
George Harrison: Living In The Material World is a deeply felt, affecting and immensely informative and enjoyable documentary on one man and his truly extraordinary life.
Directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese, responsible for such landmark films as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. The documentary looks at the complex and at times difficult, yet compelling life Harrison lead until his death from cancer in 2001.
The film also explores the mark he left on the world in regards to both music and so much more.
Starting with joining The Beatles at seventeen, George, along with his fellow band mates and brothers in arms Paul Mc Cartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr, changed the face of popular music as the world knew it.
Using archival footage and photos, many of which have never been seen before, Scorsese paints an incredibly vivid picture of Harrison’s life both within The Beatles and beyond.
Scorsese provides truly incredible access to those people who knew him throughout his life. This includes of course, Paul and Ringo, but others such as Eric Clapton, with whom he had a close but complex relationship, and others such as Monty Python’s Eric Idle.
The film also includes interviews from close friends and confidants of the band during the period they played in Germany, including as bass player Klaus Voorman, photographer Astrid Kirchherr, and Formula One racing driver Jackie Stewart.
Together, these people discuss all sides of Harrison’s personality that made him what he was, the good and the bad.
This documentary has been many years in the making with interview subjects such as wonderful keyboard player Billy Preston having past away since his interview, and infamous producer Phil Spector, who has since been incarcerated for murder.
This adds to the sense of meticulous attention to detail, which sets this fine documentary apart from others.
Constantly under the Mc Cartney/Lennon shadow, Harrisons songwrting truly blossomed in the latter part of the career of The Beatles. Highlighted by great songs such as “Taxman”, “Within You, Without You”, the extraordinary “Something”, which was inspired by his first wife, Patti Boyd, who also inspired Eric Clapton’s “Layla.”
Harrison also wrote one of this scribes all time favourite songs, the timeless, positive, joyous and incredibly life affirming “Here Comes The Sun”, off “Abbey Road.” Immediately after The Beatles Harrison really hit his stride with the epic triple album All Things Must Pass, and the stunning single from it, “My Sweet Lord.”
The aspect of Harrison’s life that stands out the strongest and came to define him as a person is his quest to find higher meaning in the world and to keep this in balance with the more ‘worldly’ and material aspects of modern life.
This is never more evident in his life-long quest in regards to spirituality and search for meaning and semblance in life, especially post-Beatles.
The level of fame achieved by the band afforded them material wealth, but The Beatles, especially George and John, began to feel disillusioned with life and searched for more on a spiritual level.
This is not a fawning, non-judgemental documentary. It isn’t afraid to show or discuss Harrison in a less than positive way. A great example of this is how it shows the period where, post The Beatles splitting up and after the triumph of his All Things Must Pass triple album, he descended into heavy drug use, heavy touring and his singing voice being all but shot.
Being the ultimately positive person he is, Harrison withdrew from the limelight somewhat to discover life on his own terms. His estate Friar Park, and the care with which he attended to it, is a beautiful illustration of his attempt to create a positive world around him.
Harrison was also an innovator in many ways. His Concert For Bangladesh was one of the first instances where music was used to raise both social awareness and money for a cause. Basically, there would be no events such as Live Aid without it.
He also became a film producer, forming HandMade Films in 1978, primarily to put up the money for Monty Python’s Life Of Brian when the original backers, EMI, pulled finances for the film due to its controversial subject matter. Harrison, a life long fan of British comedy, simply stated to the Python team that he wanted to see this film made, and mortgaged his house to provide the funds.
There is a wonderful moment in the doco where Eric Idle describes Harrison’s actions as “the most anyone has ever paid for a movie ticket!” HandMade went on to produce many wonderful British films in the 1980′s, such as the gangster masterpiece The Long Good Friday and the utterly unique and brilliant Withnail & I, many films bigger studios wouldn’t have touched.
There are many wonderful, warm and amusing anecdotes from many people that really give the viewer a strong image and picture of Harrison and his extraordinary life. Olivia and Dahni Harrison, his second wife and son, paint a strong picture of an, at times, difficult but very loving and caring man.
This is a truly fantastic and worthwhile documentary that gives a rare insight into a man who very much helped shaped the fabric of the world as we know it in so many different ways.
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