George Harrison: Living In The Material World (2011)
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Critic Reviews for George Harrison: Living In The Material World
Despite the shagginess, Scorsese mostly stays focused on Harrison as a reflection of his fans, eternally searching for something elusive - something that only came around occasionally.
A film that sheds a lot of light on its subject but at times can be a little too blissed out for its own good.
It's a seductive and moving scrapbook made with an outward artistry and an inward conventionality.
By removing the edges that gave the man's life some bite, Martin Scorsese hasn't done George Harrison's legacy any favors.
Audience Reviews for George Harrison: Living In The Material World
A very well-produced documentary about a very enigmatic figure.
Of course, this documentary is required viewing for Beatles fans. But it's not perfect. Diehards may grumble that so much of Harrison's solo career is ignored (few recordings beyond All Things Must Pass and the first Traveling Wilburys album are discussed). The landmark "Anthology" project also goes unmentioned. More crucially, director Martin Scorsese struggles for a way to depict the Beatles era while remaining focused on the Quiet One and avoiding well-trodden ground. Most of Harrison's Beatles compositions are dutifully plucked out to showcase, but why does Scorsese wholly skip the "A Hard Day's Night," "Help!" and "Yellow Submarine" films? And no interviews with Pete Best or Cynthia Lennon? Meanwhile, we do get unnecessary talk of Lennon's "bigger than Jesus" controversy and an odd emphasis on Klaus Voormann and Astrid Kirchherr. The first portion also has some awkward jumps in time, as if Scorsese considered a flashback structure and abandoned it in midstream.
The interviews are not particularly essential, beyond a rare chat with Phil Spector (who comes off quite sharp, despite his strange appearance) and the sight of Ringo Starr getting choked up to recall his final meeting with the dying Harrison. Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono just deliver their usual media-crafted soundbites. No surprises there, though it's interesting to hear McCartney surrender credit for the guitar figure of "And I Love Her."
In the end, the narrative doesn't matter much. It's more about fastening onto the rarely seen photos and film clips. A shot of the young Harrison and John Lennon mourning Stuart Sutcliffe especially lingers in memory.
I don't know why they're talking about George Harrison in a documentary about Madonna, but hey, I'll run with it, because I'd much prefer to learn about someone who helped liven up the music industry, rather than someone who helped in killing it. Okay, she's had a fair couple of decent songs, but I'm telling y'all, the day Madonna covered "American Pie" was pretty much the real day the music died, so she can keep her own material world. Jokes about the title aside, I was always wondering why they haven't gotten around to an extremely lengthy, especially extensive documentary about The Beatles, but after seeing that the documentary on George Harrison, alone, exceeds three-and-a-half hours, I'm afraid to see how long my proposed documentary epic on The Beatles would be. Well, to be fair, this is Martin Scorsese we're talking about, and he could do a documentary on grass, and you'd be there a while. Yeah, I know that it's only his music documentaries - of which, there are many - that are especially lengthy, which is why by grass, I mean, weed, because if he did a documentary on weed, let alone any other drug in the music industry, I doubt it would ever end. The segment with The Beatles, alone, would make this documentary look about as long as a short episode of Biography. Eh, I'll deal with it, because Martin Scorsese sure knows how to make a good documentary, which of course makes this film all the more disappointing, which isn't to say that it's bad, or even mediocre, yet it is to say that this documentary stands falling short of Scorsese's documentarian abilities, as well as telling George Harrison's story.
I know it's going to sound like a nitpick, but I just have to complain about the intentionally jarring editing, especially when it comes to this film's little stylistic choice of building momentum and resonance during one bit, primarily through really blaring music, only to jarringly snap it silent right at the moment in which we transition into the next bit. The reason why this is not a nitpick is because it happens "so much", and I am not even kidding, as the documentary will just keep pulling those jarring stylistic choices that just fire you out of it, and yet, those jarring tonal shifts remain among the least of this film's problems. The tonal shifts don't just bother me because they're uneven, but because when this film isn't really pumping out the theatrical atmosphere, it dulls down something fierce, and it really doesn't help that it's often repetitious as all get-out. Still, the core issue with this film that really drives home its underwhelmingness is the simple fact that it's depth is ever so limited, with the occasional piece of information feeling redundant and a fair couple of information pieces really aren't that informative, feeling lacking in some material and specifics around the edges, yet most of all, a deep focus on what is conceptually its primary focus. The film messily meditates upon George Harrison, forcing him into its focus with such limited insight that all throughout, you pretty much hardly get to the core of who Harrison really was, rendering it a borderline failure of an effort. Well people, they you have it, I just saw'r a film today - oh boy - ("A Day in the Life"; if you don't get the reference to that awesome song, you disgust me) that's over 200 minutes and not all that good, contradicting my rule that if it's that long, then it better be good. However, for all of its missteps, of which there are many, the film will pull a fine move that really keeps you sticking with it through all of its faults and its sprawling length, with one of those aspects being the style of the film.
Now, don't go thinking that thist film is extremely stylish, because they got Robert Richardson, one of today's great cinematographers, and all they did was have him film people talking. Now, granted, even then, the color and lighting on the interviews aren't too shabby, yet this is still no Oliver Stone film, in terms of style, though it does have its touches of style, and more often than not, those really hit home. True, such stylistic choices as those aforementioned unrelenting intentionally jarring cuts actually kind of hurt the film, yet there are editing tricks that are generally sharp and dynamic, giving the film some engaging diversity and grandness. Sure, this film isn't grand on the level of another extensive Martin Scorsese musician documentary, "No Direction Home", which was almost like some kind of documentary epic, yet this documentary remains lively, and for all of its dull spots and lapses in effectiveness, it remains stylish and theatrical enough to keep you going. It's good that there's something there to keep you going, because with all of my complaints, while most of the film is underwhelming to the point of making the final product generally underwhelming, there's a gradual amelioration that all but corrects the preceding mistakes. Editing and style smooths out, as genuine insight builds, providing the intriguing material that we may not get enough of, yet still get to where this effort is generally worth the sit. Again, with all of the film's consistent high points and gradual build into being genuinely good, it trips in too many places, yet not enough to where the film is completely dismissable, and if you're looking for a study upon the life and times of such a complex and legendary spirit as George Harrison that's as insightful as it gets, then, well, I don't know, read his Wikipedia article or something, which isn't to say that this isn't a good and enjoyable way to start your research, as it is ultimately worth a go.
In closing, the film has its off-putting occasions of overstylizing, as well as some dull spots, yet is most plagued by much pronounced lack of insight, repetition, some redundance and an overall limiting of human depth within this analysis of George Harrison ultimately making the film underwhelming, yet with a generally attractive style and livliness creating engagement value to hold you over until the documentary builds into a smoother, more insightful product - which may not be insightful enough, yet still ultimately makes the effort worth the sit -, "George Harrison: Living in the Material World" ultimately stands as an improvable, yet enjoyable and, at times, rather rewarding study on the complexities with the career and, especially, the life of the legendary Beatle.
2.5/5 - Fair
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