Martin Scorsese’s new HBO documentary about George Harrison is as serious and sometimes mystifying as its subject
By Matt Zoller Seitz
Press Play Contributor
Who is your favorite Beatle? If you prize humility, generosity and gratitude — or if you’re a kid who loves the sound of his funny name –you might answer Ringo Starr. Otherwise it’s probably a two-way race between Paul McCartney, who stands for sentimentality, old-school musical craft and ceaseless productivity, or John Lennon, whose name still epitomizes rebellion, sarcasm, soulfulness and martyrdom. I’ve rarely heard anyone answer “George Harrison,” and Martin Scorsese’s two-part HBO documentary Living in the Material World (Oct. 5 and 6, 9 p.m. Eastern, 8 Central) incidentally suggests the reasons why. Harrison was the most studious, elusive and impenetrable Beatle. And as he got older, he became increasingly uninterested in celebrity except as a vehicle that could expose him to new experiences, and bring him into contact with artists and thinkers from whom he could learn something.
George — as I will refer to him from now on in this review, because calling the Beatles by their last names seems too formal — was the youngest of the Beatles, but by consensus he was the most mature. From a shockingly early age, he was a student of life, cultivating the demeanor of an acolyte on an endless pilgrimage to an unknown destination. John Lennon had a questing spirit, too, but his life had a wild, often deliberately comical performance-art aspect that George’s mostly lacked. Where Lennon’s personal evolution was a series of diary entries that he invited the world to read, George’s happened, or seemed to happen, in private. The outward evidence of whatever quest George was on (hair length, wardrobe, sitar lessons, Hare Krishna chanting) seemed mostly unconnected to his life as a public figure. He explained himself in the media only because, as one of the world’s most famous men, he had to — and because he hoped his celebrity might encourage strangers to try whatever he was excited about.
You can read the read of Matt’s piece here at Salon.
A critic, journalist and filmmaker, Matt Zoller Seitz is the staff TV columnist for Salon.com and the founder of Press Play.