George Harrison
Living in the Material World
Grove Street/Universal

Having directed the superb documentary on Bob Dylan, No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese was a natural choice to make a similar film on the life of Beatle (and Dylan’s pal) George Harrison. Of course, such a task is more difficult when your subject matter has already passed on, but Harrison’s widow, Olivia, allowed the filmmaker complete access to the Harrison archive. As such, Scorsese sculpted Living in the Material World, which premiered on HBO last year and is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, out of previously filmed interviews with the guitarist, Beatles footage, and home movies (much of it never before seen), while adding new interviews with family and his many friends and associates, including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, and Yoko Ono, among others.

But more than some mere stroll down memory lane, Living in the Material World ends up revealing a plotline to Harrison’s life, one which even he probably couldn’t have predicted as a lad growing up Liverpool. This is not your typical tale of the trials and tribulations of a massively successful rock star, but rather the story of a man trying to transcend his success to find spiritual fulfillment. Like his mentor Ravi Shankar, for Harrison that transcendence was intertwined with his music, and his explorations of Hinduism and Hare Krishna, were reflected in what he created. But while he embraced some of the practices of such ideologies, he always remained an individual.

At more than three hours, Living in the Material World is a fascinating depiction of Harrison and the many directions his life and work took. Scorsese does a remarkable job in covering his life by not being entirely linear in his approach. The narrative thread works more on thematic logic, tracing each of the tangents Harrison went in before returning to the timeline of his life. But what is probably most compelling is the obvious impact Harrison had on the people around him. Even Ringo, the persistent goofball, gets teary eyed while remembering his former bandmate.

Scorsese’s greatest accomplishment with Living in the Material World is in meshing all this material together. One is almost led to believe that Scorsese had been spending the last few decades with Harrison, he so seamlessly weaves various interviews with the guitarist together. In fact, were it not for Harrison being spoken of in the past tense, one might believe him to still be alive the depiction of his life is so vivid. Alas, Harrison eventually succumbed to lung cancer, but as Olivia Harrison relates, he left this material world just as he lived his life: without trepidation. Scorsese’s film is a fitting tribute to that kind of spirit.
Stephen Slaybaugh