08 January, 2012


The title of Martin Scorsese’s documentary on the life of George Harrison is more than just a reference to George’s second solo album.  A recurring theme throughout the film is George’s ambition to leave his body (or the material world) in the best way possible. 

A little over half the film is spent on his time in the Beatles, but even the stories we’ve heard before, such as the Beatles’ rough apprenticeship in Hamburg, aren’t as stale as they might be because they are shown through George’s eyes.  Astrid Kirchherr recalls the time she photographed John and George in Stu Sutcliff’s room shortly after she had informed them of his death.  It’s actually a pretty well known photograph but I had never heard the history behind it before.

There is no narration, with George’s story being told via interviews with family and friends, and with George himself.  Many of these are from unused interviews for the Beatles Anthology and there are also some very interesting, rarely seen television appearances.  Elsewhere, Dhani reads passages from George’s letters and diaries.  The new interviews indicate just how long it has taken to make this film.  Billy Preston died in 2006 after a long illness and we all know where Phil Spector is now. 

Unlike so many similar projects, the breakup of the Beatles is not presented as some great turning point, but as a natural progression, which is just as George would have regarded it. 

No-one is written out of the story.  Patti Boyd is interviewed and reads passages from her book and her relationship with Eric Clapton is dealt with candidly.  Although George’s creative output at the time suggests he might have been more upset about the breakup than he let on, the film respectfully sticks to George’s story that he was cool with it so long as they were both happy.

The film discusses George’s work with Monty Python and the subsequent creation of his production company, Handmade Films, but curiously, no mention is made of his record label, Dark Horse Records.

On the extras side, there are additional interviews with Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne and Damon Hill, a live performance of the Ravi Shankar collaboration Dispute and Violence (which sounds not unlike something Frank Zappa might do) and a lovely moment in the studio where Giles and George Martin listen to the multitrack of Here Comes the Sun with Dhani.  The Damon Hill piece also features home video by George.  The moment where he gate-crashes a doorstop press conference with Damon Hill after he lost the 1994 World Championship is priceless.

Living in the Material World is a beautiful film about a beautiful man and it flows like a well-sequenced album.  Just as it’s about to make you cry, it makes you laugh, but before you laugh too much, it reminds you that there are greater things – just like George’s music. 

Feature: * * * * ½
Extras: * * * * *
Audio: Dolby 5.1, DTS, Dolby Stereo

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