Living In The Material World

Published November 10, 2011

As previously posted in this blog, a George Harrison documentary, Living In The Material World, has recently been released on DVD. As a long-time Beatles fan I naturally bought this as soon as I could. I’ve since watched it a couple of times and although I haven’t got much to add to the praise lauded upon on the film – and it really is not to be missed – it did trigger the following thoughts.

Rock documentaries are not only a depiction of the life and times of its subject, but do also reflect the times in which they’re made. This might be stating the bleeding obvious, but in this case it’s particularly poignant, for when Imagine: John Lennon, the official documentary about Lennon, was made back in 1988, relations between the surviving ex-Beatles and Yoko Ono were not such that his former band mates could be interviewed for the film. Today, of course, post-law-suit-settling, the situation is different, and both Paul and Ringo, as well as Yoko, were interviewed for the film about George. Also, John’s film was a cinema-length film, around 1 hour and 40 minutes in length. George’s film is about 3½ hours, taking a leaf from Scorsese’s 2005 Bob Dylan extravaganza, No Direction Home. So if the John Lennon film had been made today, it would in all likelihood have been a very different, more expansive experience, and probably an even better one.

Some rock documentaries require a high level of knowledge about its subject so as to fill in the blanks in the film. If you come to Living In The Material World with only basic knowledge about its subject, my guess is that some of the events depicted and people featured in the film will raise a number of question marks that are never straightened out. With my fairly deep knowledge of George’s life, I was still left puzzled by some sections in the film. Also, I do agree with some of the points made in this review, particularly about the complete omission of George’s comeback album Cloud Nine and its international hit single ‘Got My Mind Set On You’. It would have required an additional five minutes at the most, and I can’t see that this would have made much difference when the film was already so long. Perhaps David Hepworth is on to something when he writes in Word Magazine that “you do wonder how many people were interviewed whose contributions ended on the cutting-room floor because their views didn’t coincide with the producer’s argument. Bob Dylan is an obvious no-show but the absence of Jeff Lynne is more puzzling.” Indeed, Jeff Lynne was interviewed but his contributions are only in the DVD’s extras (and not very much at that). Knowing that Lynne was George’s most integral partner on his albums Cloud Nine and Brainwashed, as well as The Traveling Wilburys albums, his complete no-show in the film is incomprehensible.

So: If you’re a Beatles or George Harrison fan, you will definitely enjoy this film – its rare and previously unseen archive footage, and interesting insights from George himself as well as the interviewees, pretty much guarantees that. But be prepared to fill in the blanks.