Monday 14 November 2011


(Martin Scorsese, 2011)

Following the success of his superb, epic Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home, Scorsese addresses another icon of 1960s rock in this near three and a half hour film on the "quiet Beatle", George Harrison.
In general, it's masterfully executed, focusing intently on the spiritual quest that characterised Harrison both as artist and human being, filled with brilliant archive footage and previously unseen photographs, narrated by key players in interviews and soundtracked by some of Harrison's best music.
It appears to assume some level of knowledge about Harrison's career, often skipping exposition in favour of a more reflective, elliptical or poetic portrayal of an event or phase in his life and is roughly structured around a few key moments: the formation of the Beatles, their rise to superstardom, his discovery of Indian mysticism, the breakup of the band, the making of "All Things Must Pass", the Concert for Bangladesh, his involvement in film production, the Travelling Wilburys, the assault by a deranged intruder that nearly killed him, and his death from cancer. That's a fascinating, full life, and Scorsese fills in around it with some equally fascinating details and snippets. But there are frustrating exclusions and some things are absolutely fudged. Harrison's life as a rock star who "loved women" is kept tellingly vague (his widow is a Producer), and most of his post-"All Things Must Pass" material is ignored. As far as this film is concerned, Harrison spent the last three decades of his life noodling in the studio, gardening, going to parties and meditating.
Then there is the related structural problem. One decade in Harrison's life - the 60s, the time he spent with the Beatles - dominates his reputation and legacy, but it has been exhaustively chronicled, and is dealt with in the first half here, while the next three decades take up the remainder. And Harrison, as talented a songwriter and musician as he was, was only the third greatest writer in the Beatles, and the more compelling figures of Lennon and McCartney each warp the narrative with the magnetism of genius whenever they feature.
But there are some fabulous moments here, from McCartney's thick scouse impression of a childhood friend describe George's hair as "like a fookin turban" to Olivia Harrison's chilling, shocked description of their struggle with a crazed attacker, to sundry clips of Harrison's own dry wit. And the music, of course, is fantastic.

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