A while back I reviewed the documentary film The Ackermonster Chronicles – a documentary film telling the life story of Forrest J. Ackerman. The film conveyed Ackerman’s life in a way that I compared to people talking about Ackerman at a wake, telling stories about his life, and in my view it didn’t quite get across why, necessarily, Ackerman was historically important or significant. George Harrison: Living in the Material World, from director Martin Scorsese uses the same style of presentation, but gets that point across better.
Now, part of the reason for why it’s easier to get that point across is, for a large part, because Harrison is a Beatle. This isn’t just because the members of the Beatles are widely known to the general public – but also because the career of the Beatles has been incredibly well documented. Much of that documentation shows up in this film, from interviews with members of the band, news footage of the group, and concert footage. Further, because Harrison is a Beatle, most of his other projects get enough media attention that there’s also plenty of interview footage of him. Consequently, Harrison is able to speak for himself a great deal over the course of this film. While there were a few interviews with Ackerman in the documentary about his life, they aren’t as extensive.
Otherwise, the presentation is effectively the same – a succession of interviews from various people who knew Harrison, family, friends, and former spouses, along with the two other surviving Beatles, edited to create a linear narrative telling the story of his life, with no actual narration. This makes this a film into one that is built as much in the search for archival materials and in the editing room as in the interviews themselves. Not surprisingly the film’s editor, David Tedeschi, got nominated for an Emmy Award for editing in a Non-Fiction work.
I do have one complaint with the interviews – the primary view of Harrison’s solo career, up to the Concert for Bangladesh, is done through interviews with music producer, and murderer, Phil Spector. I would really have preferred more interview footage with someone, almost anyone else who was involved with the concert – especially Bob Dylan, who worked with Harrison on several occasions but who does not appear himself in this documentary.
This film is a strong documentary, and a solid, though primarily complementary, portrait of Harrison. It made for very good viewing, and is definitely worth checking out.