"Previously unseen private letters, home movie footage and intimate personal recollections of George Harrison are set to radically correct public perceptions of 'the quiet Beatle' in a new documentary by Martin Scorsese," report Vanessa Thorpe and Ben Dowell in the Guardian. "Revelations include the fact that Harrison's widow, Olivia, struggled to keep the relationship with her wayward husband on track. In the film Eric Clapton also talks about how he felt consumed with envy as he fell in love with Pattie Boyd, Harrison's first wife. Scorsese, who has focused his camera in recent years on musical subjects, from his history of the blues to a concert film of the Rolling Stones and an acclaimed study of Bob Dylan, No Direction Home, now sheds light on the self-confessed 'dark horse' Harrison. Living in the Material World shows a man who — as well as being the stylish hippy of popular perception — had a caustic wit and a talent for deep friendship as well as an abiding obsession with his music."
"It's a wonder how he does it, but somehow between making The Departed and Shutter Island and Boardwalk Empire and Hugo and all his assorted other projects, Martin Scorsese has found time to create another epic music documentary," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy. "Scorsese doesn't try to make a case either for Harrison being as an important an artist as Dylan or his band mates John Lennon and Paul McCartney, or for his having been somewhat neglected. But that the film entirely commands full attention for 209 minutes is itself testimony not only to its quality but to the idea that the public may have underestimated this old schoolmate of Paul's whose voice wasn't that great, who wasn't as cute as the other two original Beatles, didn't contribute many songs at first and got into that weird Indian sitar stuff but had perhaps the most diverse and unusual life journey of any of them."
"The opening to George Harrison: Living in the Material World hits the same notes as the opening of Mean Streets because its subject is a Martin Scorsese hit parade: lower-class origins, Catholic upbringing, talent, discipline, dazzling achievement, and a struggle between the carnal and the divine." Chris Norris in Film Comment: "Interviewees from Phil Spector to Terry Gilliam to Scottish auto racer Jackie Stewart attest to the instincts and generosity the recovering Beatle brought to the rest of his life. Clearly, Scorsese's tale of a lifelong war between spirit and flesh was hobbled by the legacy guardians he needed for access…. McCartney confides that Harrison 'was a red-blooded man and was into things guys like.' Give or take a coke reference, this is about as close as we get to the material world that burdened George's ascent."
"Scorsese's approach spells a complex connect-the-dots game for the uninitiated," writes Variety's Peter Debruge, "though there's plenty here to encourage further exploration — not least of which is the music, which sounds incredible in the film's mix, even if the tracks have a nasty way of cutting off to dead silence just as they're getting good…. As Living in the Material World draws to a close, ending as countless musician biopics have before, Scorsese poignantly shows that Harrison left the world as he wanted: positive-minded, wiser and at peace. Now, through not only his music but also this thoughtful portrait of a lifelong seeker, part of that enlightenment can be ours."
Rolling Stone has put Harrison on its cover and, while Brian Hiatt's story isn't available online, we can browse images (and here are a few more) from Olivia Harrison's book, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, edited by Mark Holborn and due on shelves on September 26. The next stops for the doc before it airs on HBO on October 5 are festivals in San Sebastián, Athens and New York.
Update, 9/20: The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw caught the film in San Sebastián and found it to be "a hugely involving event, which made a serious, reasoned case for George Harrison as an authentically spiritual figure in pop music, a musician who, alone in the Beatles, and perhaps alone in 60s pop culture, genuinely cared about the life of the spirit and the nature of the transcendental. And with his 1971 concert for Bangladesh, George Harrison invented the benefit gig."
Update, 9/23: The New York Times' Dave Itzkoff talks with Olivia Harrison.