George Harrison – Living in the Material World

  • Film
  • Documentaries
Martin Scorsese has already exhaustively surveyed Bob Dylan’s shining back pages in ‘No Direction Home’, so it’s perhaps surprising that he should now offer the same full-on treatment to the ‘quiet’ Beatle.

Set aside any qualms now that three-and-a-half hours devoted to George Harrison may prove over-generous, since this dedicated and always engrossing chronicle not only argues that his post-Fab Four musical accomplishments match those of his former band mates, it also convinces us of a remarkable life worth poring over and celebrating. Yes, it’s all very much in the Friday night BBC4 clips ’n’ chat format, but the wealth of footage on view (including ’60s TV clips from here, there and everywhere, not to mention the Harrison family’s own home videos) plus the stellar roster of participants – among them Messrs McCartney and Starr, Eric Clapton, and a pre-prison Phil Spector – deliver the goods.

What makes it far more than superior muso-fodder, though, and perhaps signals Scorsese’s particular imprint is the compelling central idea that for Harrison, securing wealth and fame still left him with spiritual questions to answer. His ventures into Indian mysticism and the sitar risked popular ridicule, yet what comes across strongly is how musical expression and existential enquiry worked in tandem for him, explaining why the songs from his ‘All Things Must Pass’ album have genuine staying power, and outlining the generosity of spirit that prompted his pioneering music-biz charity work.

While Python fans owe Harrison eternal thanks for personally bankrolling ‘Life of Brian’, he’s never quite saintly, and the man’s very contradictions make him a fascinating subject for biography. Retiring yet gregarious, contemplative yet drawn to sensual indulgence, generous and financially canny – all of which comes together in this epic treasure trove.

Compendious and compassionate in equal measure, it’s ultimately an affecting portrait.

Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Tuesday October 4 2011
Duration: 209 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Martin Scorsese

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