Read Part 1 HERE
In the second installment of Martin Scorsese’s HBO documentary on George Harrison, I can see more clearly one of the connections Marty may have had with George besides his love for rock music. When I first began to understand Scorsese’s drive as a filmmaker, I came to realize that no matter what his films were about, they almost always in some way addressed the idea of the human soul and how it fits into our world. Aside from his more obvious religious themed projects like The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun, Marty has often dealt with the soul of his main characters in some way. Mean Streets deals with a man seeking some sense of redemption by caring for his reckless cousin. Cape Fear deals with a deranged man who sees himself as some sort of avenging angel. Of course Raging Bull deals heavily with a fallen man who comes to desire redemption. Spirituality and its place in this world of the flesh is a common theme for Marty, and this second film on George Harrison deals largely with how this iconic figure weaved his way through the second stage of his life as a man with a great deal of spiritual awareness.
After The Beatles broke up George actually spent a great deal of time working on his skills as a sitar player under the training of one of his musical and spiritual mentors Ravi Shankar. Ultimately George realized that the guitar was his instrument, and his calling was to play rock music. He was also growing in his love for meditation and chanting, which seemed to bring him joy and peace above everything else. While staying in Los Angeles, George began to establish a working relationship with Phil Spector and, to give Scorsese and the other filmmakers points for bravery; he actually appears in this film. We learn from Spector of how it was when George brought him along to work on the John Lennon single Instant Karma, that the two decided to work on All Things Must Pass, my personal favorite. We also learn of George’s initial reluctance to release My Sweet Lord as a single, which became one of his biggest hits as a solo artist. Interviews with Spector, Clapton, Ray Cooper, and others tell of some of his ups and downs as a solo artist. We see some very intimate home movies on the road while touring and the landmark Concert for Bangladesh. We also get lots of footage from his estate at Friar Park. We also get first hand details from both Clapton and Patti Boyd on the love triangle that existed between the three of them, which produced the Clapton song Layla. As we go into the late 1970s we get glimpses of Harrison’s second marriage to Olivia Harrison, who also co produced the film.
Some of my favorite moments are when we see how much Harrison enjoyed getting involved in the movie business as a producer and financier. Interviews with Monty Python creators Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam reveal that George mortgaged his house to finance their movie Life of Brian mainly because it was a movie he really wanted to see. We see posters of movies his company Handmade Films produced like The Long Good Friday, Time Bandits, and Mona Lisa. Thankfully Socrsese chose not to remind us Handmade also produced the Madonna vehicle Shanghai Surprise. We also revisit the tragedy surrounding the death of John Lennon, and George’s collaboration with Bob Dylon, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison in the band The Traveling Wilburys.
Some of the most captivating moments come in the later part of the second film when Olivia Harrison describes in great detail the night when she and George had to fight for their lives against a crazed knife wielding intruder, and when we hear about his battles with cancer. Other interviews come from Tom Petty, race car driver Jackie Stewart, Ravi Shankar, George himself in archive interviews, and Harrison’s son Dhani. If I have one criticism of this film, and it’s a minor one, it’s that we don’t get enough of Marty. Now of course he’s present in the way the film is cut, along with David Tedeschi, but I miss his actual voice. One of the things I’ve loved about Marty’s documentaries is hearing his voice come from behind the camera faintly reacting to some of the subject’s words. His infectious laugh and rapid speech are, for me, missed in this one. Aside from that, this is a must for any Marty or George fan, and another great documentary from HBO.