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George Harrison: Living In The Material World (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner30/09/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 209 minutes

Despite its punishing three-and-a-half-hour length, this is a thoroughly engaging, highly entertaining and pleasingly exhaustive portrait of a fascinating man. Needless to say, this is a real treat for Beatles fans.

What's it all about?
Directed by Martin Scorsese, George Harrison: Living in the Material World (which recently screened at the San Sebastian Film Festival) is an exhaustive account of the life and work of “quiet Beatle” George Harrison. Beginning around the time that he first joined The Beatles, aged 15, the film spends an equal amount of time on each phase of his subsequent career, from the height of Beatlemania through the break-up of the band, to his solo projects, and his continual quest for spiritual enlightenment, his charity work (including organising the first benefit gig with the Concert for Bangladesh). It also focuses attention on his forays into film production with Handmade Films and later projects such as The Travelling Wilburys, before his eventual battle with cancer and his horrific attack at the hands of a home intruder in 1999, before his death in 2001.

The Good
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the arse-numbing running time, Scorsese has assembled a wealth of extraordinary material (much of it never-before-seen) that includes home movies (including interviews shot by Harrison himself on a video camera), archive footage, Harrison's own letters to his parents; some wonderful still photographs (there's one particularly striking photo of the other three Beatles facing George, who's visible in mirror behind them); TV clips, diary entries (“Got up, left The Beatles, went for coffee ...”) and unearthed musical recordings. These are all interspersed with a comprehensive array of talking heads from every phase of Harrison's life and career, including George Martin, Harrison's son Dhani Harrison, his second wife Olivia Harrison (who co-produced the film) and Eric Clapton, as well as surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

The Great
The film is endlessly fascinating and includes several astute observations, whether it's Terry Gilliam observing that Harrison found some of the Beatles' spirit in the Pythons (but was then equally disappointed to discover the same divisive spirit was there too) or Olivia Harrison declaring that the secret to a happy marriage is “not to get divorced” (the film hints at Harrison's drug use and womanising but is content to brush over specific details).

However, what emerges most strongly from the film is a portrait of a likeable, intelligent, frequently funny and musically gifted man for whom musical expression and spiritual happiness were inextricably intertwined.

Worth seeing?
Superbly directed and exhaustively researched, George Harrison: Living in the Material World is a thoroughly enjoyable documentary that, needless to say, is an unmissable treat for Beatles fans. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 18/10/2017 00:54

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