Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Part 2

Of course, no documentary on George Harrison would be complete without addressing his well-publicized, lifelong quest for spirituality and Scorsese devotes ample time to this topic. The film touches on George’s involvement with Indian mysticism, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Hare Krishna group, and his lifelong practice of meditation through the use of mantras. Particularly intriguing are Olivia Harrison’s recollections of how her husband spent a great deal of his life preparing for the moment of his death. She recounts how her husband was adamant about being prepared for the moment when his spirit would leave his body and how his near death encounter during a 1999 home invasion almost wasted a lifetime of spiritual preparation.
Although Olivia’s brave intervention saved her husband’s life during that night, son Dhani Harrison remarks in the film how the trauma of that night may have been the catalyst for the recurrence of his father’s cancer. Still, when speaking of her husband’s final moments, Olivia Harrison seems at peace and almost joyous when expressing that George’s wish of being prepared for his death was fulfilled. She recalls that when Harrison finally did submit to death, it was almost as if he “lit up the room.”

In my humble opinion, the mark of any good art is its ability to move people or influence them on some level. Aside from being an enjoyable and informative documentary, Living in the Material World was significant to me in that it was able to change my decades-old perception and understanding of George Harrison, the man. Throughout my life as a Beatle fan, I came to assign a label to each of the Beatles, which in my view, encapsulated the roles they played in the band and in life on a grander scale. John was the rebel, Paul the conformist, and Ringo the good natured guy who seemed to have it all fall in his lap but knew how to handle it. George always seemed to me a malcontent, a man who was less controversial than John, less consumed about maintaining his public image than Paul, yet generally less able to enjoy life than Ringo. From a distance, George appeared to be a reluctant lottery winner, unable to appreciate the many gifts that had been bestowed upon him. He struck me as having an undercurrent of bitterness or dissatisfaction with the world or perhaps, the manner in which people conducted themselves in the world. This bitterness would at times creep into his music and is evident in his masterpiece While My Guitar Gently Weeps, as well as later compositions such as Cockamamie Business, and the Traveling Wilbury’s Handle With Care.
Yet through Living in the Material World, Martin Scorsese allowed me to relate to George Harrison more intimately than I ever had in the past. The film enabled me to peek behind the curtain to see a simple man, who was not necessarily unappreciative of his artistic gifts, great fame, and fortune, but simply less interested in the glory than he was in the music itself and in attaining a higher plain of spirituality. Perhaps the bitterness was the result of being dragged kicking and screaming into the spotlight, chased through the streets by screaming girls and ravenous press, and having every morsel of privacy snatched away at such a young age. Perhaps George could never adapt to the carnivorous and sycophantic nature of the music business. As the novelty of celebrity and fame wore off, it seems that his tolerance for the seedy side of celebrity status waned to the point of resentment. Once he had attained all the wealth, success, fame, and adulation that one can on Earth, George Harrison began to seek fulfillment at a higher level. Perhaps he was not a malcontent at all. Perhaps he realized at an early age, what most of us never do. There is more to life than living in the material world.


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