Martin Scorsese‘s four hour reflection on the most private Beatle of them all, George Harrison, is short on revelation but high on respect towards the man apart from the Fab Four. Scorsese’s documentary, Living in the Material World, is heavy on George’s youth and history with the Beatles, along with finding faith and spirituality, and living & acting it out without pretension. Given ‘platinum’ access to the family’s archives and interviews with band mates, family members and peers, Scorsese uncovers photos and homemade videos portraying Harrison in every light, dark and light. It’s the dark side of George he respectfully leaves out most of the time, letting it remain softly private, and hinted at by interviewees.
The restraint Scorsese intentionally practices with Harrison’s Dark Horse period is noticeable, as is most of his solo career after 1970’s masterpiece, All Things Must Pass. Eric Clapton, super-session drummer and unofficial ‘Wilbury’ Jim Keltner, along with Klaus Voorman and Harrison’s first wife, Patti Boyd, provide us the few narratives allowed into that period of his life. Phil Spector, pre-murder conviction, is caught in fun spirits recollecting how All Things Must Pass came to life. If the rest of the popular culture was caught up in post-Beatle breakup circa 1970, Harrison was already moving on, stock piling songs for a few years that never made the Beatles catalogue.
The Dark Horse period of Harrison’s career, 1974-1980, remains a mystery, though we know a few of their causes (Clapton and Boyd’s affair, laryngitis, women, drugs), even after Scorsese’s touch on it. We know he suffered emotionally & physically based on the commentary despite efforts to remain open hearted, humorous and accepting of events, accumulating with John Lennon’s death. From there it’s a blur- we learn the stabbing he took in his own home on New Year’s Eve, 1999, was worse that the press made it out to be; and even after having survived the stabbing to simultaneously suffering & succumbing to cancer, it’s again with a Beatle, Ringo, do we shed a tear over the last words recollected with George, lifelong friend and band mate. It always hits harder when Ringo speaks, and Paul sheds a tear, and vice versa.
Many moments in Harrison’s life feels cut off, intentionally, by Scorsese. From one great artist to another, Scorsese to Harrison, one can only feel Scorsese softened up with editing out a large chunk of Harrison’s life; but only he, the master film maker, could avoid a major chunk of time in Harrison’s career (most of 1973 to 2001) and get away with it. Any director could have made something great out of George’s life on film— but only one would truly know how to handle it with respect, Martin Scorsese, he a true lover of music as documented in his own films over the last 4 decades. Everything about George Harrison’s life after 1974 that Scorsese casually refuses to share, is in the song, Beware of Darkness, off of 1970’s All Things Must Pass. Harrison’s life, and everything Scorsese maybe wanted to say within this film, could easily be summed up within those 4 minutes. Listen, and watch, closely.