WOWOWOW! Martin Scorcese’s monumental four-hour documentary on the late Beatle George Harrison flew by and exploded like a shower of stars at the New York Film Festival today!
I saw it at a press screening after which there was a press conference via Skype (no, I’m not kidding) with the great director, Harrison’s widow Olivia, his film editor, David Tedeschi and two of his producers. They were in a hotel room in London, getting ready for the film’s premiere, where it is sure to cause a sensation.
It IS sensational! It’s a joy and a wonder and absolutely a definitive account of the life of the late Beatle. I found it rapturous. And for those of you with HBO, it’s going to be shown on the cable channel very, very soon. So every one can enjoy the wonder of basking in the glow and the revelation that is “George Harrison:Living in the Material World.” I really do think this ranks among Scorcese’s greatest works. It certainly is the most enjoyable. And revisiting the Beatles music in the brand new theater at Lincoln Center is just going to be a sublime experience for all who are lucky enough to get tickets to the New York Film Festival.
We all think we know all there is to know about the Beatles, but Scorcese is here to tell us with this wonderful documentary, that no, we really don’t.
In Part One(there was an intermission), we see George and Ringo constantly being shuffled off to the side in the heady Beatle craze of their first great success, which never really ended. John Lennon and especially Paul McCartney, were the favored ones. They wrote the songs, after all, that made the whole world sing and that as Scorcese says formed the soundtrack to our lives.
George was “The shy Beatle”, the “third Beatle”, but he was with the group since the beginning. A childhood friend of John and Paul’s from Liverpool, who was only 17 when the fame that never ended burst upon them.
What we didn’t know was that as time wore on, George was the one who was more and more discontented with his place in the Fa Four. And the film shows him as leaving the group. And that is was he, not Yoko Ono, who affected broke up the Beatles. He just couldn’t stand it any more being under Paul (and John’s) thumbs.
Harrison is also there on many many film clips & interviews to assert his own point of view and testify on his own behalf, in his own words, which is wonderful. And he did have very strong views, even revolutionary ones, for the time.
He felt that what the fame and the wealth that the Beatles achieved wasn’t enough. It left him empty, unfulfilled, and so he famously sought the Meaning of Life in the Eastern mysticism that brought the great sitar player, Ravi Shankar, and the various yogis into his life, the other Beatles’ lives and through them and the different kind of music they started making really changed the perception of just what pop music could achieve and the messages, some quite profound, that it could convey.
Harrison calls himself at one point “the Beatle who changed the most” and it certainly seemed like he did. He’s almost unrecognizable in the second half of the film which is post-Beatles. As a Beatle, he seemed just a cute, but rude kid.
Scorsese also brings out the fact that Harrison was a Roman Catholic and that the influence of his childhood religion, like upon Scorsese himself, was profound, and I think may have led to him constantly seeking what solace he could find in all the Eastern religions and cultures he involved himself with.
But what was he seeking solace from? His fame? His success? He seemed also the film reveals surprisingly in its’ second half that he had a long-term, happy marriage to his second wife Olivia and a son whom he loved and who loved him. So he had a reasonably stable and happy family life. This too comes as a surprise to all who think they might have George Harrison all figured out.
And Olivia Harrison becomes a very strong narrative presence in the films’ second half. And she is one of the main instigators of this film coming into being. She sought out Scorsese, arguably among the world’s greatest directors, to tell George’s and her own story, in its mind-boggling complexity. And Scorsese more than made her wish come true.
The audience of press that I saw the film with this afternoon was all of an age certain, as the French say, which surprised me, because usually the New York Film Festival press corps skews quite young. But this also underlined to me the importance of this film and its’ bringing to a new generation who did not know the Beatles as I and most of the rest of my generation knew him, the essence of this great, sometimes underappreciated and overshadowed talent, to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness. And it is in this that “George Harrison:Living in the Material World” succeeds greatly. He was a great star, a great dedicated musician and composer and a great spirit.
Scorsese related via Skype from London that the first footage he was presented with of George, was just this seemingly endless shot of a bed of tulips. Finally, Harrison emerges for within the tulips, and just smiles for a while.Like the proverbial garden gnome. And that is the way this film now begins. It’s just us, with George, smiling.