George Harrison first became known to the world as "The Quiet Beatle" of the Fab Four, but there was far more to his life than simply being a part of The Beatles. This film explores the life and career of this seminal musician, philanthropist, film producer and amateur race car driver who grew to make his own mark on the world. Through his music, archival footage and the memories of friends and family, Harrison's deep spirituality and humanity are explored in his singular life as he took on artistic challenges and important causes as only he could.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
I can't claim direct knowledge of the topics addressed by many reviewers here, but I can say that I have read just about every significant book published about The Beatles in general, and Harrison in particular. I totally understand the issues people express about this film: long without being either balanced or comprehensive; curiously silent on some key events (perhaps Olivia Harrison's wishes are a factor here?); missing some key points of view (though getting Dylan, for example, to talk about anything in a useful way is notoriously difficult). But I feel I must address a couple of points raised.
1. Re: Concert for Bangladesh. The amount raised by the concert itself was about a quarter of a million dollars. Sales of the iterations of the album and the movie raised about 12 million, to be administered by UNICEF. The money DID go to refugee relief, BUT was delayed by 11 years because of the failure of organizers to apply for tax-exempt status. So... bad planning, but not a scam or a failure.
2. Re: Harrison's relative contribution to the Beatles. On the one hand, the evidence is quite clear that Ringo was far more crucial to the Beatles sound in the studio than Harrison - the band simply did not function well with any other drummer (rumors of McCartney sitting in are based on photos, not the meticulous records kept by Abbey Road; when Ringo quit for 6 weeks in 1968, numerous replacements including Ginger Baker were tried, and no one was able to provide the subtle and generous and dare I say feminine approach that the Beatles suddenly discovered was a key ingredient in their process, causing them to beg for his return). Harrison was great at coming up with carefully planned, often double-tracked parts, which added beauty and flavor at a higher level than McCartney or Lennon could offer (the 15 seconds or so of Harrison on Getting Better, e.g., truly makes the recording). But he was an indifferent electric rhythm guitar player in my opinion. His songs were only occasionally as good as L&M's, however there is no denying the fact, attested to by Martin, Parsons, and others, that Harrison got short shrift in studio time to realize his ideas.
It is essential to keep in mind that L&M were given INCREDIBLE amounts of time for the era, virtually unlimited takes after 1965, to get the basic tracks right, and then to try dozens of approaches to the sweetening and vocals. Harrison was never given this opportunity until the last two real albums produced (White Album and Abbey Road), and suddenly his work shows a massive uptick in quality, both of writing and execution (Savoy Truffle, Piggies, Something, Long Long Long, Here Comes the Sun, While My Guitar Gently Weeps - all of these outclass his earlier work by miles). It can't be a coincidence that once the Beatles essentially stopped being a team and became each others' session players, Harrison flourished. Also worth noting that he produced the first truly satisfying album as a solo artist, All Things Must Pass - overly long, but a big hit and a good listen, using in part songs he had been carrying around for a few years.
With regard to the contradictions between his lifestyle and his purported spiritual values - in what way is this unusual or even notable? Seems like standard operating procedure for entertainment celebrities to either need a frame of self-justification, or to have trouble avoiding the temptations of riches, or both.
I obviously appreciate Harrison's work, but I'm not an uncritical fan - his "middle period" of solo work is pretty awful, just a few songs are keepers; and even Cloud Nine is really a few good songs surrounded by oddly paced, indifferently written material. His last album, Brainwashed, is weird but really interesting, and at a higher level lyrically than anything he had done since All Things Must Pass.
He was who he was: not a genius on the level of L&M, but an ingredient in their recorded output that would be sorely missed were we somehow able to remove it. And there is an argument that his presence and his influence enriched the Beatles philosophically, lyrically and musically. They were very competitive: if George was spiritual, well by jove they were going to be spiritual too. A thin veneer of spirituality perhaps, on lives that were primarily about fame and money and art, but again an ingredient that, if not present, would have made the Beatles a very different band.
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