By Gillian G. Gaar
“Living in the Material World” (Deluxe edition)
The deluxe edition of this set packages Harrison’s “Early Takes Volume 1” CD, DVD and Blu-ray editions of the Martin Scorcese documentary “George Harrison: Living in the Material World,” and an edited version of the book of the same name.
It’s the book that makes this set less desirable to purchase; it’s a 96-page distillation of a book that runs to 400 pages, so if you’re a Harrison fan, you’d surely rather have the bigger book. Both books have an enticing selection of rare photos from Harrison’s archives and quotes drawn from interviews with Harrison and others; the larger book, naturally, has even more goodies.
“Early Takes Volume 1” is also something Harrison fans in particular will want, though they’ll certainly be frustrated by the CD’s short length (a mere 10 tracks). If it’s meant to be a sampler of what lies presumably lies ahead (as implied by the “Volume 1” tag), it does a great job; there are early takes and demos of such classics as “My Sweet Lord,” “All Things Must Pass” and “Awaiting On You All.” Stripped of their ornate production, these songs are sweet in their simplicity. It’s another welcome peek inside Harrison’s archives.
The documentary is a bit of a disappointment. It’s a soft-focused look at Harrison that’s less a documentary and more the recorded reminiscences of those who knew and loved him. There’s surprisingly little context. If you’re not well versed in Beatle history (and despite the film ostensibly covering Harrison’s entire life, the bulk of the time is spent on the Beatle years), you’ll likely be left at sea as a parade of film clips and interviews float by (not always in chronological order) with few explanatory captions.
There’s also surprisingly little from Harrison, despite the wealth of interviews he left behind and that director Martin Scorsese had access to. Most glaringly, there’s little about his music or his development as a songwriter, aside from some quotes on his Beatle-era work and his first solo album. If your only knowledge of Harrison came from this movie, you wouldn’t know he even released an album after “All Things Must Pass.”
Nor is the plagiarism suit over “My Sweet Lord” — which one would think would have been devastating for a songwriter — even mentioned. It all works to keep Harrison at arm’s length from the viewer.
What made him tick? You won’t find out here. Instead, the film brings to mind the epitaph Dorothy Parker joked she wanted on her tombstone: “If you can read this, you’ve come too close.”
Harrison fans will probably still enjoy the film, of course. But the bottom line is, if you don’t need to have both the DVD and the Blu-ray, you can pick up the three items (CD, film, book) cheaper as separate purchases than in this set.