And while I'm on a Scorsese kick...
Why did Martin Scorsese decide to make a film about George Harrison? Why did he decide to make a film about the Dalai Lama? Or The Age of Innocence? While this is another documentary about a rock-star icon, following along from Scorsese's own The Last Waltz, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan and Shine a Light, it's closest in style and tone to the Dylan doc, as a profile of a man of his time and how he lived through it.
Unlike Dylan, who is a mystery even to the most curious of fans (or just one of the more obnoxious, depends how you look at it), George Harrison seems to be, from accounts and interviews, to be a man of spiritual and artistic integrity who had various concerns and ideas, and he expressed them throughout his life - or, if not in the recording studio or as a producer of films, then with his garden. One may not be able to find the link between the sarcastic (if 'quiet') kid from A Hard Day's Night with an old man in a garden (or for that matter the old man having to defend his life against a burglar, as he did, in 1999), but it's all here.
I may not have found Harrison quite as enlightening as Bob Dylan, but should he be? Maybe in his own simple way though Scorsese finds a more direct path or personal link to him through the spiritual side. Harrison was someone who found through the Maharishi, Indian music, transcendental meditation, some kind of path through the noise of Western civilization.
The clash is what's interesting here, and Scorsese knows it too. While the director is fascinated with BIG emotions in his films (see anything with De Niro for more on that), he's also fascinated how someone operates with a calm demeanor on the surface burning with emotion underneath. Harrison was the guitarist for the Beatles and then when the break-up happened, he had to break-off and find another way. He was still a pop star, and his first solo album, the great 'All Things Must Pass' went into the top ten of the charts. But how did he reconcile a working class British-Liverpool upbringing with the teachings of Haria Krishna?
Of course, the first hour of this massive three 1/2 hour films are dedicated to him and the Beatles, and it's wonderful to see the footage, hear the songs, find out some details about the songs Harrison wrote for the group (i.e. the first song he ever wrote, 'If I Needed Someone'). Then the second part is about the spiritual search, or what's close to it, mixed with the start of the solo career (and of course some of the famous tales of romantic highs and lows via Patti and Eric Clapton are included).
There's a section for the film-part of his career, where as a man of faith, though not exactly (it's complicated you see) he helped pay "the most ever anyone's paid for a movie ticket" for Monty Python's Life of Brian. And then about his gardening, his second wife Olivia (and - kind of a shock to me - the candor which Olivia, who was a producer on the film and wrote the book spin-off of the film, talks about Harrison's infidelities in their marriage, something I really admired), and other things like friendships, the burglary in 1999, and his untimely passing from cancer.
It wouldn't be a Scorsese movie without music, and hey, it's George Harrison so there's lots of good stuff here (sadly, for me, no 'I Got My Mind Set on You'), and there's the director via editor David Tedeschi's marvelous way of navigating the story with music. Watch the opening and how 'All Things Must Pass' goes over the WW2 footage, then mixed in with some of the more traditional music of the 1940's period to see some of the brilliance with which Scorsese does this. And the interviews are mostly illuminating and nice, once or twice piling on the adulation (perhaps as one might expect) while still giving some moments for the quirks Harrison had - such as a story Tom Petty tells about ukuleles - and some of his flaws as a man and artist.
I'm not sure if for fans the film will shine a whole lot of new light, though for newcomers it should provide the bulk of know-how. What's great about the film ultimately is the thread of the story, and how the filmmaker is not afraid to jump around, or jump ahead, and expect the audience to keep up. It's not as straight-thru as, say, The Beatles Anthology. We're seeing a life in various dimensions, time-spans, and it's as if not more post-modern than the Dylan doc. It's joyous, meditative, somber, happy, funny, a little daft and a little less than perfect. I can't wait to revisit the life and work.