'George Harrison: Living in the Material World': What the Critics Are Saying (Video)
Martin Scorsese's epic music documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World debuts Wednesday night on HBO.
The 209-minute film, will air over two nights, aims to shed new light on the Beatle.
The doc features interviews with George Martin, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Pattie Boyd, Astrid Kircherr, Yoko Ono and even Phil Spector, who was interviewed before being sent to prison. It also contains clips and photos of the band, some taken by Harrison himself.
So what do the critics have to say about the doc?
"Extraordinary footage from both the Beatles era and post-'60s period, along with revelatory, often beguiling commentary from a host of intimates and a treasure trove of musical delights, combine to create a personality portrait of welcome depth about a musical giant who often seemed to stand a bit in the shadows of his more exuberant peers," he wrote.
But he does take issue with the doc's "construction," quibbling that "no sooner are the youngsters in Liverpool introduced at the outset than the film jumps momentarily to the Beatles breaking up, there's scarce mention of the lads' film work (might this not have helped spur George's later entry into the film business?) and family and other personal details are sketchily presented at best."
Meanwhile, Mike Hale of the New York Times argued that Scorsese's doc on Bob Dylan, 2005's No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, is much better than the filmmaker's latest entry about a 1960s musical legend.
"The Dylan documentary had the advantage of a living and surprisingly garrulous subject whose interview segments gave the film a through line and a strange, bubbling energy," he writes. "Material World has extensive footage of Mr. Harrison talking before his death in 2001, but the film inevitably seems more historical, more like a standard great-man biography."
Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle was even more critical in his assessment of the doc. He writes that the first half is "largely a rehash of well-worn material that fails to parse Harrison's viewpoint."
"The second portion opens with the acrimonious breakup of the Beatles, vividly reflected in footage from the 1970 documentary Let It Be that captures Harrison and bandmate Paul McCartney arguing in the studio, and quickly loses all narrative drive as the film meanders through the last 30 years of Harrison's life in a vague, undisciplined and ultimately unrewarding attempt at examining Harrison's search for meaning in life," Selvin writes, adding that "many things go unexplained and film footage is not identified. Dates are not provided. The story loses all signposts through the second half. "
The Washington Post's Hank Stuever argued that the film is problematic from the start.
“Living in the Material World circles around and very much dwells on the Beatles’ heyday for most of its first half, as any of the countless Beatles documentaries and books must," he wrote. "The first 20 minutes feel like a series of potential starts, as if what we’re viewing is a rough cut and Scorsese is inviting us to submit notes on suggested trims. Had this been a movie about anyone besides a Beatle, I’m not sure people would be willing to return for the second half on Thursday. But it is about a Beatle, and therefore one soaks it all up like a sponge, because a Beatles fan loves nothing more than fresh evidence."
Meanwhile, Bill Harris of the Toronto Sun noted that the doc contains several clips and pictures of the Beatles that he's never seen before. He also wrote that he "laughed out loud" at one from the band's early heyday. But he admitted he thought the doc could have been better.
"As a straight-up documentary, the first hour of George Harrison: Living in the Material World is the most compelling," he wrote. "It's interesting to hear about the early days of the Beatles through Harrison's perspective for a change. There are segments late in Part 1 and throughout Part 2 that drag. The total three-hour-plus running time could have been tidied up. But having said that, the doc certainly doesn't linger on Harrison's far-too-young demise at the age of 58 in 2001."
Philip French of the U.K.'s Observer was more effusive in his praise, calling it an "excellent movie throwing new light on the so-called 'quiet Beatle.'"
"Despite being co-produced by Harrison's widow [Olivia], it's well this side of hagiography, and held my unflagging attention for three and a half hours," he wrote, adding: "I was left with a greater understanding and appreciation of his work."