George Harrison: Living in the Material World

Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Abrams
Publication Date: 02/10/2011
RRP: £26.99

With No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese gave us a new view of Bob Dylan, and his blues series is as well-liked as it is admired. Now he has turned his attention to the Beatles' guitarist for a film for which the tie-in book is written by Olivia Harrison.

One word that describes the iconic legend of a musician George Harrison (and, incidentally, one of his many known traits) after viewing the documentary counterpart of Living in the Material World, would be 'sensual'. The establishing shots of him in Martin Scorsese’s documentary, of Harrison almost hiding amidst a bed of red tulips suggest this; the shot seting up the audience up for being introduced to a man always seeking heightened senses.

Living in the Material World is three and a half hours of Harrison’s life, told in an unusual fashion, constructed by the blocks of interest that made up his life: there is pre-Beatles, followed by the success and fame that they had achieved, going through the Hare Krishna period, followed by solo George Harrison and ending with his experience of being attacked, and then passing away. The footage included in this documentary definitely holds the viewer’s interest, and stills, a considerable amount of which were taken by Harrison himself, allowed Scorsese to put together an intriguing and stylish scrapbook of Harrison’s life.

Contributors that commented on the icon included racing driver Jackie Stewart, Monty Python star Eric Idle and one of the Travelling Wilburys, Tom Petty, which is indicative of the musician’s eclectic life – the Beatles only being a tiny part of this spiritual man’s experiences.

This very stylised documentary, which has some elements of a typical music documentary, also has its moments of surrealism, such as when George is sat amidst the gnomes on the cover of his solo album All Things Must Pass. As he is no conventional man, this unconventional scrapbook seems perfect for the visual biography of his life – one that lends itself well to a quality coffee table book.

Living in the Material World, written by his widowed wife, Olivia Harrison, is exactly that: a scrapbook that includes contributions, photographs, letters written (there is one particularly humorous one written by John Lennon to Mrs Harrison, his mother), postcards sent and other items of memorabilia. In conjunction with the film, the book’s contributors include the Monty Python cast, Eric Clapton and the other remaining Beatles, making it an ideal scrapbook for any George Harrison fan. The plethora of stills included in the documentary is featured in the book, prolonging the movie-watching experience.

George Harrison is noted in Scorsese’s documentary as being in this world, “and not of the world,” making him a mystery to the average Beatle fan, and possibly even to the George Harrison fan. Combined, Martin Scorsese and Olivia Harrison work in equilibrium to deliver a very similar portrayal of this bizarre musician, which reveal a great deal about a man who simply wanted to experience life at its most carnal: a perfect insight for any enthusiast.

Sign up to our newsletter