Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese's documentary on the late Beatle George Harrison, GEORGE HARRISON: LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD, named after the singer's 1973 album of the same name, was released in the U.K. last fall on DVD and Blu-ray, and aired in the U.S. on HBO. Finally, the U.S. DVD/Blu-ray is out, and it is well worth the wait.
The film airs in two parts: Part 1 covers George's life from his Liverpool childhood through the height of Beatlemania and beyond. Part 2 begins with the White Album-era tensions between The Beatles, and the group's eventual split, then focuses on George's solo career and his personal life. There is one significant gap: the documentary seems to skip from his 1974 U.S. tour (essential unseen footage here) to the Traveling Wilburys era, and leaves out his Dark Horse Records solo work from 1976-1992, including his 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine and his 1991 tour of Japan with Eric Clapton. The Dark Horse Years 1976 - 1992 box set does fill these gaps, as does a recently released iPad Multi-Touch e-book on iTunes. The film's most glaring omission is during the segment on John Lennon's murder and its effect on George, which unfortunately does not mention Harrison's wonderful tribute song, "All Those Years Ago," recorded with the other surviving Beatles, which was a #2 hit for George in 1981.
The film does cover Harrison's career as a filmmaker with his company HandMade Films, including such hits as LIFE OF BRIAN and TIME BANDITS, with a brief mention of The Rutles thrown in for good measure, but wisely skips HandMade's Sean Penn/Madonna box office flop, SHANGHAI SURPRISE. It also candidly deals with George's near-fatal 1999 stabbing and his ultimately losing battle with cancer.
There's much archival footage of George throughout, much of it from The Beatles Anthology, including some outtakes, There are highlights of his musical career too, including the best-sounding versions of The Beatles' 1962 Hamburg Star-Club tapes that I have ever heard. Whoever did the remastering on those songs should be hired by Apple for a proper rerelease of those tracks. There are interviews with Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, Sir George Martin, the late Neil Aspinall, George's lifelong friends Eric Clapton and Ravi Shankar, fellow Wilburys Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, his wife Olivia and son Dhani, race-car drivers Jackie Stewart and Gordon Murray (George loved Formula One racing, and even wrote a song about it ("Faster," from 1979's George Harrison album)), and others. Pattie Boyd Clapton, George's first wife, speaks candidly about their troubled marriage, and her affair with Eric Clapton, who she would subsequently marry and divorce. Even convicted murderer "Crazy Phil" Spector gets into the mix, discussing the production of All Things Must Pass [BOXED EDITION] and The Concert for Bangladesh (Limited Deluxe Edition) - the interview was probably done before his imprisonment.
Overall, the film is a fine, loving tribute to George, just as the late David L. Wolper's Imagine: John Lennon (Deluxe Edition) was for John.
The Deluxe Edition contains the film on two DVDs, and a single-disc Blu-ray. Both have eleven bonus features, including six (not specifically indicated on the packaging) that are not on the standard DVD or Blu-ray release.
The four musical features are: 1) George playing his ukelele to (it sounds like) the old standard "A Shine on Your Shoes" (uncredited); 2) a soundcheck of the B-side "Deep Blue" from the Concert for Bangladesh; 3) a segment from Abbey Road Studios where George Martin and son Giles "break down" the master of "Here Comes The Sun," much to the delight of Dhani Harrison; and 4) a Shankar Family and Friends instrumental called "Dispute and Violence," recorded live during the 1974 U.S. tour.
The seven interview segments include pieces on George's growing up in Liverpool, George describing the origins of the poem "The Inner Light," which became the basis for his first Beatles B-side, and interviews with Paul McCartney, Neil Aspinall, Jeff Lynne, and race car drivers Gordon Murray and Damon Hill.
The sort-of soundtrack CD, also available separately as Early Takes Volume 1: Music From The Martin Scorsese Picture Living In The Material World, consists of 10 Harrison demos and alternate takes, most, if not all, from the early-to-mid-1970s.
The four discs are housed in a deluxe gatefold book with a Hamburg-era photo of George on the front cover, and a Linda McCartney photo of George (probably late '60s or early '70s) on the back cover. There are also two stand-alone photos, one from Hamburg, and the other from the mid-'60s, with an easel included, as well as a soft-cover 96-page book, which is an abridged version of the hardback book George Harrison: Living in the Material World. Casual fans who already own the book and don't care about the DVD/Blu-ray extras may want to purchase the standard Blu-ray or DVD editions, and buy the EARLY TAKES CD separately. But for fans who want it all in one felt swoop, this Deluxe Edition is essential.
Happy 70th birthday, George, wherever you are. I hope Olivia is planning a nice tribute (February 25, 2013).