George Harrison – Living In The Material World [Directed By Martin Scorsese]

 Beware of sadness; it can hit you, it will hurt you.
– George Harrisonsrc=

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.


Martin Scorsese

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.


George Harrison - Living In The Material World [Directed By Martin Scorsese]Andy Whorehall

3 comments on "George Harrison – Living In The Material World [Directed By ..."

  1. I watched it this evening. I think you’ve done well by highlighting Scorsese’s restraint regarding those darker periods. I’m slightly wary about giving too much outright praise to that choice because there’s a nagging feeling that I’m given by Olivia Harrison’s role as a producer of the film and whether that held any creative control over what was covered or potentially restricted. My hope is that her role was solely that of supervising the culling of the Harrison archives. It would make sense for the decision to have been director motivated. Scorsese is the guy who managed a four hour doc about the first 25 years of Bob Dylan’s life.

    I think it is all for the best that Scorsese chose to allow the man’s spirituality and a slim ten year period of his songwriting to define the narrative. That focus allowed for the triple-punch sequence of a tearful Ringo, Olivia’s recollection of his death, and then a cut to black and the slow scroll of the Harrison songs used in the doc. What a gut check.

  2. jojowrinkles on

    Yes, sadly, Scorsese left some potentially interesting stuff out, but what we were allowed to see was pretty compelling. The unseen clips and photos were like porn for this Beatles fan. A side note: The true ‘dark horse’ was Phil Spector. I’d watch 8 hours of Phil Spector talking about anything music related. His commentary was both spellbinding and upsetting at the same time. I also agree that Olivia Harrison must have nixed some gritty material from George’s life. I imagine that must have been some pretty raw shit. Good doc though.

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