Monday, May 21, 2012


The HBO documentary, directed by Martin Scorsese, is as good as billed.  It's one of those videos you'll want to own a copy of, to pull out and enjoy again every couple of years.  Produced with the Harrison family blessings, everybody is involved, from Ringo and Paul, to all his pals, (Clapton, Pythons, car racers, Shankars and swamis), to his son Dhani, his widow Olivia and even his ex, Pattie.  Really, the only person not interviewed of importance would be Dylan, but no surprise there.

Presented in two parts, as originally broadcast, its four hours in total, and like Peter Bogdanovich's Tom Petty bio, you could still watch a couple of hours more.  Part one is more or less birth and The Beatles, and part two covers his solo career and final years.  You'd think The Beatles era would be a rehash of the same old stories, but Scorsese turns the very familiar tale inside out; now we're living it through George's eyes, instead of the others.  We learn what is was like to be the youngest, the more thoughtful, and the one who blossomed later as a writer.  His perspective, told from archival interviews, and the stories of intimates such as Klaus Voorman, Astrid Kirchherr, John and Ringo, Pattie, Ravi Shankar, and others, may not include any bombshells, but it gives us a much greater appreciation and understanding of the changes he went through, especially as the group came to an end.

That's the magic of this film.  This complex, talented, fascinating man was one of the most famous people on the planet, but somehow he was mysterious, misunderstood ("the quiet one"), and private.  While the world watched the Lennon and McCartney antics, Harrison developed into someone just as interesting, and important.  Scorsese is able to explain how this happened, and how he developed a unique vision for his life, based on his spiritual search and his rejection of much of the trappings of fame.  Yes, he was famous and wealthy, and certainly enjoyed the fruits of his labour and luck, but it was with humility, and with a passion for helping others. 

We see the flourishing of this in the second part of the film.  The experiences start to pile up.  The great solo album, All Things Must Pass, and then The Concert For Bangladesh, to help his friend Shankar and his people, the first all-star benefit concert.  His patronage of his loves and friends, producing Monty Python films, recording Indian music, taking it on tour, backing Formula One drivers, and above all, gardening.  You can feel him growing mightier as a spiritual person, although Scorsese allows for some faults as well.  Voorman talks about drug period in the 70's, we see some footage of the sore throat tour of '74, critically ravaged.  Olivia pretty much admits he was a philandering husband at times.  But his flaws, including a famous temper, were part of what made him even more fascinating.  By the time he reemerged in music with The Traveling Wilburys, he had reached a state of positivity that amazed fellow musicians such as Tom Petty, clearly still in awe of his friend.  The devotion of the famous and not-so-famous folks found here is remarkable, even in a tribute doc.

The footage is grand throughout, including some rarer Beatles stuff, lots of George's private photography and home videos.  The editing is seamless, with the tale told without narration, only interview clips, and it's all perfectly explained.  McCartney is very good, humble and obviously someone who loved his friend.  Clapton is able to open the door into what Harrison's life of fame was like, to explain his talents as a musician, and, remarkably, to talk about the situation which led Pattie to leave George for him, and how they still remained friends.  But above all, you'll marvel as Olivia recounts what happened when an intruder broke into their home and stabbing Harrison multiple times, and how she fought him off and saved her husband's life.  As much as his music has meant to people, you'll come away with a greater respect for the man.

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