It hardly seems possible that George Harrison died more than a decade ago, aged 58. Martin Scorsese’s tribute to the Fab Four’s mystic one, ‘Living in the Material World’, is an exquisitely-crafted biopic, from the master filmmaker who has already given us ‘The Last Waltz’ (1978), ‘No Direction Home’ (2005) and ‘Shine a Light’ (2008) and who first cut his teeth on filmed pop concerts when he co-edited ‘Woodstock’ back in 1970.
To have sourced, chronologically sorted and edited contemporary documentary footage, spanning 40 years, of the most-filmed pop quartet of the 20th century was no mean endeavour. Then to track down and obtain the co-operation of the likes of Eric Clapton, Terry Gilliam, Tom Petty, Ravi Shankar, Phil Spector and the notoriously reclusive percussionist Ray Cooper, makes this tribute irresistible. Add to the mix, every single song Harrison wrote – many performed in concert – and you have it all in a wonderful three-and-a-half-hour-long musical feast. This year’s US Critics’ Choice jury agreed, making ‘George Harrison: Living in the Material World’ its ‘best documentary’.
The only bummers in the film are the interminable musings from Britain’s new ‘Olympian’ Paul McCartney and some embarrassing psycho-babble from Eric Idle.
On the non-music plus side, you get some spectacular glimpses of the idyllic landscaped grounds of Friar Gate, the 120-room gothic mansion in Oxfordshire which George snatched from the jaws of demolition, and where he and his wife were nearly murdered in 1999.
Just as in Asif Kapadia’s BAFTA-winning ‘Senna’, although you know the ending – mutely watching the film’s inexorable passage towards the hero’s finale – when it arrives it’s still just as gut-wrenchingly heartfelt. In the case of the best motor racing movie ever made, it has to be the overhead shot of the cortège entering Sao Paulo Cathedral. In the concluding coda to the Scorsese epic, George’s death is described poignantly by Olivia Harrison: “There was a profound experience that happened when he left his body … let’s just say you wouldn’t need to light the room if you were trying to film. He just lit the room.”