It's been nearly a decade since George Harrison went the way
of all things and passed. If you're a fan, you'll feel like you, too, have died
and gone to heaven—or the Krishna equivalent—when Martin Scorsese's Harrison
documentary, Living in the Material World, airs on HBO Oct. 5-6.
Festival Friday night, following in the footsteps of the director's Bob Dylan
doc, No Direction Home, which bowed at the same fest six years prior.
Scorsese wasn't on hand (he's busy editing his next fiction pic, Hugo Cabret),
but Olivia Harrison came to the mountains to introduce the film, which she
co-produced, and sign advance copies of the film's not yet officially released coffee-table
The film is filled with fresh interviews with the likes of
Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, George Martin, Tom Petty, Terry
Gilliam, Jim Keltner, Apple publicist Derek Martin, engineer Ken Scott, a
couple of Harrison's elderly relatives, son Dhani Harrison, the late Billy
Preston, and the since-incarcerated Phil Spector. But there's a fair share of
interview footage of Harrison, too—some of it captured for the Beatles' Anthology project, some of it previously unseen.
Olivia asserted, talking with esteemed rock journalist Greil Marcus (pictured). When the Beatles' self-produced documentary was being done in the
'90s, "he said, 'You know, one day I'm going to do my own anthology.' And he
used to film himself and film everything," she added. "Really, that was his intention, and in
1999 he started gathering up (artifacts): 'Where are my tapes? Where are my
After George's plans were thwarted as he succumbed to cancer in
2001, Olivia knew "somebody was going to make the story, and I thought it was
better if Dhani and I did." After seeing No Direction Home, she got in touch
with the people who got in touch with the master filmmaker-turned-rock
Fresh material comes fast and furious even for seasoned
Beatlemaniacs in this 210-minute two-parter. That includes previously unseen
and unheard photos, performance clips, and demos, and it certainly includes the
new 5.1 surround mix that was done for all the music in the film—Beatles and
solo recordings alike—by a team that included George Martin's son, Giles, who
did such amazing work on the Love remixes.
But it's the stories you haven't heard before that really
make the sit absorbing. And certainly we've never heard the full accounting of
the attack on George and Olivia that took place at their palatial home in 1999.
It's quite literally a blow-by-blow account. Asked by moderator Greil Marcus if
she had any hesitation about going into such detail about the psychotic
onslaught that left the already ailing Harrison with stab wounds and a
punctured lung, Olivia explained her motivation for finally publicly telling
"I didn't want that
to be such a defining factor in his life," she explained. "It was a night that
just happened. But I wish I had told that story better (in the film). I was
really trying to spare the audience, so I was a little more jocular than I
would like to have been. I didn't want to make it worse (for viewers), or as
bad as it really was. But the reason it's in there—well, Marty wanted it in—was because of George's reaction. That
was the important thing."
The reaction she refers to was George breaking into a loud
spiritual chant upon spotting the intruder in their home. As Olivia explains
it, George was even more upset about John Lennon's assassination than he might
have been because, in his belief system, the manner in which the spirit leaves
the body is of paramount importance. And George was determined to leave his
physical form in a spiritual manner, even if he, too, were being attacked.
"The only thing worth talking about in that attack," Olivia said at Telluride, "was that George, at a moment of absolute chaos, when I was not
thinking about God—I didn't even think 'Oh my God!'—was actually saying 'Okay,
I'm going to let go here.' To me, that was the essence of that entire event: Here's
somebody who actually was going to do what he'd been practicing to do. That's
the reason it's in the film."
- George Harrison
- George Martin
- Olivia Harrison