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George Harrison: Living In the Material World

In the three hour gargantua of a musical documentary, George Harrison: Living In the Material World, Martin Scorsese beautifully auteurs an ode to the late George Harrison, leaving the viewers disappointed when it’s over. The film follows George Harrison pre Beatlemania to the end of his life. The film includes interviews from Harrison’s closest friends, which lucky for us include some of the most famous people in the world with Bob Dylan, Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, and Ringo Starr to name a few. It includes the interviews of two of the wives of George Harrison and Harrison himself from his own personal video archive.  

Following the death of George Harrison, various production companies looked to produce a film following Harrison’s life, though his widow Olivia Harrison declined because Harrison had wanted to tell his own life story through his video archive. Upon meeting Scorsese, she gave her blessings and signed on to the film project as a producer. According to Scorsese, he was attracted to the project because, "That subject matter has never left me...The more you're in the material world, the more there is a tendency for a search for serenity and a need to not be distracted by physical elements that are around you. His music is very important to me, so I was interested in the journey that he took as an artist. The film is an exploration. We don't know. We're just feeling our way through."

Compared to other Beatles documentaries that employ too large a scope to retain the viewer's interest, Living in the Material World is the best of what a Beatles documentary has to offer. All the characters throughout George's life depict not only the Beatlemania era of his journey but also his pilgrimage to India, and friendship with Ravi Shankar in his discovery of the Sitar. The film explores how India influences Harrison’s later solo work.

The film even includes the man who stole George Harrison’s wife, Eric Clapton. Harrison and Clapton became close in the 60’s at which time Clapton became infatuated with Pattie Boyd.

Pattie Boyd truly should receive a reward for inspiring some of the greatest love songs of all time "Something," "Layla" and "Wonderful Tonight." Her sister, Jenny Boyd, was the wife of the drummer, Mick Fleetwood. Approaching the beginning of the end, the film addresses Harrison walking out of the Let It Be sessions in frustration. The interviewer asks Eric Clapton if he was aware John Lennon posed the question of replacing Harrison with Clapton. Smugly, Clapton replies that he did in fact know. The interviewer follows up with if Clapton ever thought about what it would be like to be in the Beatles. Clapton guffaws in admiration for the Fab Four but ultimately composes himself to admit yes and explores the pros and cons. In this moment Scorsese captures Clapton as not only an expert of Harrison’s life, but also a fan.  

Frank Sinatra has described “Something” as “the greatest love song of the past 50 years”. Sinatra was known to mistakenly introduce it in live performances as his favorite Lennon & McCartney song, even though it was penned by George Harrison.

Scorsese highlights the inner rivalries between bandmates with George on the outside of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership. With most of the song writing credit administered to the famous duo, Harrison’s ideas were often shelved or relinquished to the B side. McCartney goes as far as to compare Harrison's songwriting as “something good to get into at the time- artistically and financially”. Preceding the breakup of the Beatles, Harrison already had a repertoire of music for his inevitable solo career. Kind of makes sense Harrison would take to songwriting. If you’ve been Beatle you’d think he'd as least know what a good song sounds like.

In the final moments of the film, Ringo Starr recounts his last moments with Harrison in what he calls a “Barbara fucking Walters” moment, wiping away tears as he recalls the last words Harrison said to him before he died. In the last days of his life, Harrison was residing in Switzerland where Starr went to pay his respects, though Starr’s daughter was receiving treatment in Boston for a brain tumor. “He was very sick at the time, he could barely stand up but I told him, Well I’ve got to Boston and he’s the last words I heard him say actually and he said, ‘Do you want me to come with you.. That’s the incredible side of George”.

While Ringo is heart wrenchingly honest with his feelings of his close friend, McCartney is guarded. The interviewer poses the question of what he misses about his fallen friend and McCartney responds, “His optimism, creativity and friendship”. Often said to be the Beatle with the best attitude towards the press, his formality highlights how desensitized these boys, who grew up in the media spotlight, are to the public inquires about their private lives. Even recalling the last moments with Harrison brings Starr to tears, whereas McCartney goes on autopilot.

In one of the most poignant moment of the film, Tom Petty recalls a phone conversation with Harrison following the death of fellow Traveling Wilbury’s Bandmate, Roy Orbison. “I don’t even know if I should say what he said to me. But I will anyway. I came to the phone and he said, ‘aren’t you glad it’s not you’, and I said yeah. Yeah I am. And you know he said, ‘He’ll be okay. He’ll be okay. He’s still around. Just listen.’ and that was all he had to say about it”. Petty’s confession breaks the illusion of these rock and roll legends who in truth just barely made it out alive of the eras they helped define. Following the death of not only Harrison but Petty’s recent passing, Harrison’s words strike a chord.

Martin Scorsese spent five-years compiling George Harrison’s video archives to create Living in the Material World. It paints a beautiful image of creative soul to the soundtrack of his life. The film earned six nominations at the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards, winning two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Nonfiction Special and Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming.


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