Saturday, May 26, 2012

Review: ‘George Harrison: Living in the Material World’


Early in George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Ringo Starr says, “George Had two incredible separate personalities. He had the love, bag of beads personality and the bag of anger.” This observation functions as a sort of low-key thesis statement for George Harrison: Living in the Material World; low-key, because director Martin Scorsese does not spend a lot of time dwelling on the dark side of the quiet Beatle. But because of George’s spiritual persona, the fact that he had some drug problems, was a bit of a womanizer, and had a tart tongue to rival Lennon’s might take some less-informed fans back a step or two. Most of Living in the Material World portrays Harrison as a good man not nearly as dependent on the material world as “Taxman” or his reputation for being a bread head suggest. Above all else, George Harrison seemed to be a great pragmatist and perhaps the most logical proponent of spirituality ever to nab the spotlight. When he wasn’t Hare Krishna-ing on “My Sweet Lord”, he was damning the pope in “Awaiting on You All”, quoting a Swami who said, “It’s better to be an outspoken atheist than a hypocrite,” and funding the religiously controversial Life of Brian (considering his similar experiences with The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorsese could no doubt relate). That good head on George’s shoulders is as worthy of our respect as the talent that created so much wonderful music.

Living in the Material World, however, is not overly concerned with music, barely acknowledging George’s work after All Things Must Pass. We still get extended discussions of his underrated songwriting and guitar playing and his all-too brief dalliance with the sitar, which highlights his lifelong friendship with Ravi Shankar sweetly. There is also a delightful sequence in which he gets a huge kick out of old footage of The Beatles performing “This Boy”. He seems particularly taken with the sight of himself as such a young man. Unlike Lennon, George didn’t seem to yearn for his youth. He wasn’t the type to cry, “When I was a boy, everything was right.” There were certainly bumps in the road along George Harrison’s journey, and none were worse than his 1999 stabbing, which wife Olivia recounts in chilling detail. But more than anything else, Living in the Material World presents an dauntless man who dealt with the hysteria of Beatlemania and everything that followed with grace and intelligence.

Get George Harrison: Living in the Material World on Blu-ray or DVD at Amazon.com here:
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