All Things Must Pass

George Harrison: Living in the Material World is a return to form for director Martin Scorsese following the 2008 release of Shine a Light, his rather lacklustre concert film about The Rolling Stones. Fortunately, his depiction of the Beatle known as The Quiet One has more in common with Scorsese’s 2005 film about Bob Dylan. No Direction Home was over 200 minutes long and in two parts, but still managed to only cover Dylan’s career up to 1966. Living in the Material World is also a two-parter and is similar in length to the Dylan one, but manages to cover the whole of Harrison’s life up to his death on November 29th, 2001. A major strength of No Direction Home was its newly-recorded interviews with an extremely open and talkative Dylan. Living in the Material World makes up for the loss of its protagonist by drawing on a range of interviews with Harrison at various points in his career. It opens by chatting to two of his uncles who talk about the younger George growing up in Liverpool and also draws upon letters written by George to his parents. These are voiced by an actor and would have been more effective if he sounded like Harrison or, at least, adopted a Scouse accent. Visually, the lack of film footage from this period is nicely balanced by a simple but effective use of black & white photographs. Many of these appeared to be newly discovered and we also get to see a lot of unseen footage from his days with The Beatles

Of course, there are also newly-recorded interviews with the most important living participants in George’s story. Pride of place is given to the words of the two remaining Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as some insightful contributions from producer George Martin. One of the highlights of the first part of the documentary focuses on the pre-Fab Four’s time in Hamburg. This is well told by the artists Astrid Kirchherr and Klaus Voormann and they capture Harrison’s introspective nature at this time quite well. The remainder of this part deals with George’s attempts to cope with Beatlemania and his emergence as a songwriter who poses a serious challenge to the prevalent writing partnership of Lennon and McCartney. He also dabbles in hallucinogenics before becoming more interested in natural methods of seeking spiritual enlightenment. Part one ends during the recording of The White Album and the rising tensions and conflicts within the group

The second part focuses on the period leading up to the break-up of The Beatles and the release of two of his finest songs, Something and Here Comes the Sun. Harrison had been married to Patti Boyd since 1966 and Something was written for her. He had also been friends with Eric Clapton during this time and Clapton wrote his song Layla about her. Boyd later married Clapton and one of the funniest moments in the film comes at a press conference when George responds to a question about his reaction to their marriage. He reveals that he’s happy for them and points out that she could’ve done a lot worse! The film continues through the seventies, but loses its way a little following George’s involvement in the Concert for Bangladesh. It gets going again when George befriends a group that acts as a surrogate for the band he used to be in. Monty Python enlist George’s help for a film they’re having trouble funding. George is so enthusiastic about The Life of Brian that he mortgages his house for $4 million to fund it. Its success leads to the formation of HandMade Films and the subsequent production of such films as The Long Good Friday, Time Bandits and Withnail & I

Following John Lennon’s murder in 1980, there’s not as much focus on music until George teams up with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne to form The Traveling Wilburys. Towards the end of the film, George’s second wife, Olivia, recounts the details of an horrific knife attack at their home in 1999. Harrison recovered from this attack, but eventually succumbed to throat cancer on the 29th of November, 2001. The film concludes with a number of heartfelt responses to his death from those who knew him best. George Harrison: Living in the Material World is a moving portrait of a musician who stepped out of the shadows of The Fab Four to become “the Beatle who changed the most”. Below are fifteen covers of his songs that begin with The Smithereens doing Don’t Bother Me from 1963’s With the Beatles, his first composition on a Beatles album. Eight more Beatles songs follow, including a solo ukulele version of Something by McCartney. The next five are from George’s solo career and the set finishes with a lively interpretation of the biggest hit from The Traveling Wilburys

Don’t Bother Me (Beatles cover) – The Smithereens
I Need You (Beatles cover) – Caleb Hutton
Think For Yourself – Yonder Mountain String Band
If I Needed Someone (Beatles cover) – Roger McGuinn
Taxman (Beatles cover) – Junior Parker
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Beatles cover) – Jake Shimabukuro
Something (Beatles cover) – Paul McCartney
Here Comes the Sun (Beatles cover) – Belle & Sebastian
I Me Mine (Beatles cover) – Beth Orton
My Sweet Lord (George Harrison cover) – Jim James
Behind That Locked Door (George Harrison cover) – My Morning Jacket
Isn’t It a Pity (George Harrison cover) – Galaxie 500
That Is All (George Harrison cover) – Harry Nilsson
Your Love Is Forever (George Harrison cover) – Band of Horses
Handle With Care (Traveling Wilburys cover) – Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins