Living in the Material World is Martin Scorsese’s recently released three and a half hour George Harrison documentary. Split into two parts, with the first covering his life up to the demise of The Beatles in 1970, this is a charming and very watchable history of the eminent guitarist.
Inevitably, the account of the Beatle years are the most absorbing to watch, particularly as Scorsese has uncovered a mine of rarely seen film and photographs, which gives a fresh insight into the Hamburg and pre fame period. Key players, including Astrid Kircherr and Klaus Voormann, are interviewed at length along with the expected regulars led by the still impressively dapper George Martin and Dhani Harrison, who touchingly reads many of his father’s letters. Oddly, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr don’t add much – at least they don’t contribute anything additional to what we’ve already heard from them. However Eric Clapton and Phil Spector make some interesting contributions. There’s also some fascinating gems from the mid 60s archive, including a baffled looking Harrison and John Lennon on a forgotten talk show up against a screamingly pompous John Mortimer.
Martin Scorsese has no doubt set out to prove Harrison’s worth as a musician and especially as a gifted composer. He generally succeeds, although few songs are allowed to play in their entirety. Much is made of Lennon and McCartney’s stranglehold on the Beatle songwriting duties and that the subsequent All Things Must Pass was a revelation in the quality of good material Harrison had been forced to hoard over the years. Indeed, listing to the album again I would agree that it is easily the best of the post-Beatle solo albums. For a triple album set, there’s a rare timeless quality about it.
Sadly the second half of the film does drag and skips over much of Harrison’s solo work that followed All Things Must Pass to concentrate a little too much on his role as a film producer (the Life of Brian story is over told and really belongs elsewhere) and the hobby that was The Traveling Wilburys. But Living in the Material World is still important viewing, especially for Beatles fans who may need to reappraise Mr Harrison’s worth as an individual artist.