George Harrison: Living in the Material World

Martin Scorsese's documentary on George Harrison is a fascinating look at the Beatle, but does it really help us make sense of his enigmatic character?

A scene from Martin Scorsese's documentary about the Beatle George Harrison.
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George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Director: Martin Scorsese
Featuring: George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr

Films: The National watches

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Ever the overlooked Beatle, George Harrison's life, music and spiritual odyssey is the focus of Martin Scorsese's latest documentary.

The director, best known for gangster dramas, has focused on rock'n'rollers before with the concert films Shine a Light (The Rolling Stones), The Last Waltz (The Band) and archive documentary No Direction Home (Bob Dylan).

Several years in the works, Living in the Material World combines painstakingly assembled footage from throughout the guitarist's life and interviews with everyone from the remaining Beatles to friends Eric Clapton and Terry Gilliam. But anyone hoping to see a film that definitively captures Harrison's character might be disappointed; the musician remains as much of an enigma when the credits roll as he is in the opening minutes.

Clocking in at almost three and a half hours, the film received a limited release earlier this month and was shown in two parts on HBO.

It begins with the musician's childhood in bombed-out Liverpool and his early friendship with John and Paul. The band's formative years pass by in a flash, before moving on to LSD and meditation with Maharishi. Along the way, it seems like hundreds of observations are made about the late Beatle.

Most agree that he was laid back, but the rest of the information seems conflicting. The artist and friend Klaus Voormann describes him as the "catalyst" in the band, while the producer George Martin calls him "a loner".

There's plenty here to keep not just Beatles fans hooked, but, unlike No Direction Home, this feels like more of a broad anthology than a precise document. Scorsese clearly adores Harrison, but it's worth asking whether the film might have revealed greater truths about the musician if it had been a more objective work.

  • George Harrison: Living in the Material World shows tonight at 7.30 at Vox 1

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