DVD: George Harrison - Living in the Material World | Film reviews, news & interviews
DVD: George Harrison - Living in the Material World
Martin Scorsese's epic documentary of the Quiet One
Martin Scorsese’s mammoth, authorised survey of the life of George Harrison is a strange old thing. Deeply moving, poetic, full of love, wit and warmth, it's also at times oddly assembled and, at a shade over three and a half hours, runs wide but not always terribly deep.
Using archive footage - including much unseen film and photography - and music that's both instantly familiar and previously unheard, the film's narrative voice is stitched together from old interviews with Harrison and the comments of other principals: the two surviving Beatles, wife Olivia, son Dhani, the odd Python, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Ravi Shankar. The usual suspects. They recall a man full of cheek, charm, unsettling frankness and an urgent need to find something more meaningful than mere fame to guide him. For Ringo Starr, Harrison was a “bag of beads and a bag of anger”.
Scorsese sometimes struggles to locate Harrison's story within the wider Beatles narrative, which means the second part of his film, post-1970, is the more engrossing, panning out to cover his love of gardening, the creation of HandMade Films, his ongoing spiritual searches – never quite defined – and his re-energisation in the 1980s with A-list garage band The Travelling Wilburys. His widow Olivia recounts, in distressing detail, the circumstances of the attack at their home in December 1999 which almost killed him and certainly hampered his resistance to the cancer which ended his life two years later.
It is, in the end, a wife’s film, a son’s film, a friend’s film
Yet the more we are told the more obvious the omissions become: his deep unease at touring and his role in persuading The Beatles to stop isn’t mentioned, nor the legal and financial wrangles that caused him so much anguish in the 1970s and 1980s, nor the Beatles Anthology project. There is passing mention of “extremes” of cocaine abuse and the fact that, in the words of Macca, he was “a red-blooded man – he liked the things guys liked”, but the more difficult aspects of his life and personality – and there were plenty – are left largely unexplored.
Much, then, is left unsaid, but within its self-appointed parameters Living in the Material World tells the tale beautifully. It is, in the end, a wife’s film, a son’s film, a friend’s film – partial, subjective and curiously unenlightening regarding the music, but never less than engrossing. It captures the essence of a conflicted man who was deeply loved and had the capacity to love hard in return, and who at his best was able to channel that sense of rapture directly into his life and music.
Watch the trailer for Living in the Material World
Share this article
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
The Scottish play starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard marries spectacle to mumblecore
Pacino triumphs, despite questionable attempts to channel Neil Diamond
Challenging French film about engagement, or lack of it, in unsettling ocean environment
Matt Damon gives a masterclass in survival in Ridley Scott's space adventure
The late Soviet and Russian master Alexei German finds diamonds in the muck
Diverse films gave a glimpse beyond the tourist veneer of Brazil's cultural capital
Submarine star Craig Roberts' coming-of-age debut feature is flawed but bracingly inventive
Robert Pattinson and Dane DeHaan star in an insightful biopic of James Dean
theartsdesk casts ahead to an LFF programme bursting with possibilities
Nanni Moretti gets painfully personal with this impeccably judged family drama
Immaculate restoration of 1967 Slovak film, complete with remarkable score
Antonioni's 1962 classic of alienation loses none of its power