I picked up my copy of George Harrison: Living in the Material World on the day of it’s release, and finished it in time for the HBO premier of the documentary of the same name. I’m a huge Harrison fan, and was particularly interested in the book because Olivia Harrison – George’s wife – had a hand in it. I’ve always found her to be animated, articulate and entertaining in interviews, and was really interested in hearing more of her perspective. As a George Harrison fan – both as part of The Beatles and independent of them – and having read extensively on both, I have mixed reviews, and think it best to separate one from the other, as I think they are remarkably different.
The Book, George Harrison: Living in the Material World was a phenomenal and fun read. It is a collection of photos and commentary of and about George Harrison from the beginning of his life to the very end, woven together in a way that both the die-hard fan and the casually interested reader can easily follow. The book is organized into seven chapters, brilliantly illustrating his meager beginnings, continuing in segments encompassing all aspects of his fascinating life. Although the segments, particularly the images, were not always chronological, they were placed where needed for the progression of the story while always making sense.
As I’m typing, I’m skimming through the pages and still feel the power and ‘wow’ factor of the images after having completed the book only days ago and it still being fresh in my mind. The images are not limited to photographs, but include everything from doodlings taken from George’s composition books (when he should have been studying) all the way to notes jotted down hotel stationary and lyrics of hit songs – as he worked them out – scribbled on the backs of envelopes and scrap paper. It covered Harrison as the musician, the spiritual person, the racing enthusiast, the filmmaker and the Gardner, and overall, the creative genius.
As I said earlier, this book is a keeper, one which I would highly recommend to both the avid Beatle fan and curious reader with little familiarity with The Beatles or George Harrison. It tells a complete story in regard to Harrison, deviating only when necessary to the integrity of the tale.
The HBO Documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World was somewhat of a disappointment. Directed by Martin Scorsese, it was presented in two parts, part one premiering on Wednesday, October 5, 2011 and part two on the following night. After having read the book, I was astounded at the lack of continuity in the documentary. Although much of the material was the same, Scorsese’s documentary failed to connect dots in a way that would not only confuse a non-Beatle fan, it confused me. It almost seemed as if he hadn’t read the book which he himself had written the foreword for. At one point I even picked up the book to try and find where Scorsese’s documentary was missing it’s mark. There was a great deal more commentary in the documentary than in the book, and it’s a shame that the director was so haphazard in his story-telling, as it left segments dangling in the oddest and least likely places.
Each chapter of the book opened with brief but precise explanation, whereas Scorsese gave little or none. For example, Scorsese took the viewer to The Beatles Hamburg years – a significant stepping stone – with absolutely no explanation of why they were there or how they got there. He placed interviews with people from Harrison’s life with little or no explanation of who they were or why they were significant to Harrison, and although I’m a consummate Beatles, I was left scratching my head as to why he took the audience on such a random and disconnected journey.
Part two gained a bit more momentum and continuity, but by that point he likely lost half his audience in a state of confusion. There were a few redeeming moments – particularly the interviews with Olivia Harrison, his son Dhani Harrison, and some charming bits from Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, but as touching as these were, they were unable to save what could have been (and should have been) an epic masterpiece. For these interviews and segments alone I would say it was worth the watch, but for those not yet familiar with the life of George Harrison, I’d recommend reading the book first so that you might sort out the unclear and indistinct segments of the documentary.
For other thoughts and suggested reading on The Beatles, click here