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"Sunrise doesn't last all morning / A cloudburst doesn't last all day...."
Universal Records / 210 Minutes / 2011 / Unrated / Street Date: May 1, 2012
As fascinating and unique a personality George Harrison was - and will continue to be, thanks to his astonishing musical output - the documentary on his life and times, Living in the Material World, is too damned long. Split into two parts, this 3+ hour doc does legitimate work signifying itself as the proverbial good distillation of Harrison's life and times, but it does so with an almost redundant attention to minutiae: its first section is especially repetitive.
But something funny happens to Martin Scorsese's documentary after the station break. Living in the Material world starts shakily, but has a victory lap in its final hour or so that is quite simply riveting. Once matters turn from Beatlemania to the Traveling Wilburys and the shocking truths of Harrison's cancer and the grotesque home invasion that exacerbated it, this picture really gets going. Harrison's widow Olivia makes for a wonderfully organic and straight-shooting interview subject, and fellow Wilbury Tom Petty is hilarious as, well, Tom Petty.
In fact, it's enough to make one wish that the whole breadth of Living in the Material World had such punch and gravitas. During the movie's been-there-done-that analysis of George, Paul, Ringo, and John, the material discussed is, of course, legendary, but thanks to endless Behind the Music episodes and The Beatles Anthology (much of which is rehashed here), we don't get any new tendrils of revelation into Harrison's mystique. We get some new footage of McCartney and Starr - again, toward film's end, Ringo's testimony is enough to make you well up a bit - but what bogs Material World's first half is its unfortunate familiarity.
For those who love George, however, there's no denying that the final rounds of Living in the Material World will compensate for its initial shortcomings. In addition to getting some in-studio footage with the Wilburys and deliciously candid input from Petty and company about those involved with the project, Scorsese's project goes from humdrum, run-of-the-mill rock doc into a legitimately thrilling piece of biographical filmmaking. For a moment there toward the end of Living in the Material World, George Harrison is brilliantly, fleetingly alive.