Before I get going here I think it only fair to let you in on the fact that I have been an enormous (metaphorically and not physically) Beatles fan since the days I first learned that ears are attached to our heads for the sole purpose of listening to that most divine of all sounds – music. I was involved with fan clubs in the 80s plus conventions and gigs in Liverpool (I will never forget the time I was in Liverpool when Beatles fans shared the hotel with Prisoner fans and a bunch of Trekkers – I was torn in every direction). The morning I heard that John Lennon was killed is a part of me. I played hookey and like many others headed off to Strawberry Fields. I saw Paul McCartney several times, met him the once, and I have always regretted that I never met George Harrison. The reason for this regret is not just the effect his music has had on my life but that he was an extraordinary man.
Martin Scorsese’s Documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World is longer than three and a half hours. While this is arguably far too long for the cinema, it’s perfect for the comfort of home viewing. It’s also worth mentioning that I can’t think of a film poster I’ve liked more this year.
After the superb Senna (out on DVD and blu ray tomorrow, 10 October), documentaries have had a tough act to follow. Martin Scorsese has tackled his subject matter, the very familiar and yet enigmatic figure of George Harrison, in a different way. Instead of using interviews with key figures as voice overs, Scorsese focuses on what made George unique. He was a much loved man and he was loving. The most effective way to show this impact that George had on the lives of all who knew and loved him is to show us these friends speaking about him.
George’s friends include not just surviving Beatles, or Yoko Ono, or his wives Patti (the muse of both George and Eric Clapton) and Olivia, or his son Dhani, but also musicians, comedians, actors, artists, Pythons, racing drivers, mystics. When you hear each of these friends describe how George related to them and teased out their inner troubles or dreams you realise that George was a very special man indeed. John and Paul may have grabbed much of the Beatle limelight but George’s intellect and spirituality are lovingly brought home here thanks to Scorsese. In many ways, as George mentions, he was more normal than normal, and yet his perfectionism produced beautiful sounds while his spirituality drove him to use every resource to live life to the full, bringing about the first big aid concert (for Bangladesh), supporting British film (with Handmade Films), creating a gorgeous garden, seeking peace through meditation and so much more than that.
When he and his wife Olivia were attacked in their home by a mad knifeman on the eve of the millennium, George Harrison still managed to seize moments to prepare himself for leaving his life. Watching Living in the Material World you will be left with no doubt that George lived every moment of that life to the full.
I was surprised by how many images and video clips here I hadn’t seen before. There are some beautiful images, especially from the early Beatles days in Hamburg, and later on, more poignantly, during the last days of the band in Abbey Road. The footage of George with his son Dhani and his friends at his great Henley estate are both funny and wonderful to watch. Just play spot the celebrity.
Watching Living in the Material World, I felt that I was in the company of someone very familiar and loved. Despite that, I feel now that I know and like George even more. The songs dotted throughout the film intensified the feeling. It’s very possible that ‘Here Comes the Sun’ will be my favourite song until I take my last breath. But, even if you’re not a big fan of George Harrison and his music, I am confident that you’ll finish watching this epic documentary Living in the Material World with the intense feeling that the world is a better place for having had George Harrison in it.