FILM WATCH: What drew you to do this project about George Harrison?
Martin Scorsese: George’s music is very important to me. I have been a great admirer of his work over the years. I was very interested in the journey he took as an artist and his personal evolution. The kind of music he composed was so distinctive. It came through the group at first and then ultimately was fully expressed in a number of his albums, particularly his very first solo, All Things Must Pass. Another aspect was his quest for spirituality. Our tendency is to deny that part of ourselves, which is in our very makeup as human beings. My background is Roman Catholic and in the old days I was interested in being a priest. That subject matter has never left me. The more you’re in the material world the more there is a tendency, in my mind, to search for serenity and a need to not be distracted by physical elements that are around you. [That theme resonates throughout] many of my films, even Mean Streets, but more specifically Temptation of Christ and Kundun. [George’s] life lends itself to this exploration.
WATCH: He was under a lot of pressure from a young age.
SCORSESE: That’s the nature of the world he was in. [The Beatles] were the most successful and most famous group of young people in history.
OLIVIA HARRISON: The pressure is just really equal to the success. And everything else was in equal quotients. People didn’t really see that. They always thought [of the Beatles] as happy chappies. But George always said he gave his nervous system for The Beatles.
WATCH: Why did you embark upon this project now?
HARRISON: I was approached by a lot of different people and production companies who wanted to do a documentary on George from the moment he died. I decided, no, I don’t want to do that. George wanted to do his own anthology, his own documentary. How this came together seemed to be very natural, the time, the group of friends, the circle that brought us together. Obviously, this is a deeply personal journey for me. It’s also been excruciating, because I’ve been archiving for five years. There are all of these letters in drawers and little pieces of paper that you find that say, “goats on my rope.” And I’m like, “What does that mean?” Every time Marty would say, “Do you have anything from 1945,” I’d find it and think: “Wow, now I want to know more about that picture.” Then I’d wonder, “How long have I been in this reverie over this particular item?” It’s been wonderful but emotional, too. But I feel really safe. Marty had a connection with George. He’s as passionate about film and music as George was about music and film.
WATCH: When did you meet George?
SCORSESE: In the late 70s and again in the early 90s, just for a brief bit. That was with Robbie Robertson.
HARRISON: But it was an intense, fast and furious moment. There was a knock at the door and I went “Hello?” And they said, “It’s Jack Nicholson, Robbie Robertson and Martin Scorsese. Let us in.”
WATCH: Are there particular areas of George’s life that you’re focusing on?
SCORSESE: We are trying to give an overall view, which is ambitious. We go from the early days to the beginnings of the band, through the band, through the breakup of the band, but not always in chronological order. Ultimately we’re trying to have the development of his music, his own music, tell the story if we can. The images that he shot and Olivia shot also tell the story. There are some famous bits, but also some very interesting new material.
HARRISON: It’s not only about George Harrison but about how a person lives through life and deals with what he’s confronted with. He lived an intense life for a young person. What is it that allowed him to get through everything? What was the thread that ran through his life?
WATCH: How did you manage to focus on this documentary while making your features?
SCORSESE: Shutter Island took a great deal out of me. Same thing with No Direction Home. I started both during one year. It was really an intense period. I knew at some point there was going to be conflicts between the projects. The [documentaries] freed me from the structure of the features and make me think a little more clearly about the features. They have a freedom to them, a narrative freedom. I hope somehow that they interweave.
WATCH: You seem to be creating a catalog, a history of rock. The Beatles, the Stones, the Band, George, Dylan, Woodstock.
SCORSESE: Certainly we haven’t done it intentionally. We never intended to make a chronicle of rock music, but the music inspires so much of what I do with my fiction films that they both seem to be blending now. It all seems to be interweaving.
Originally recorded at a Cannes press conference. Published with permission from the filmmakers.
LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD
U.S., 2011, 208m
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Eric Idle, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Phil Spector, Yoko Ono, Tom Petty, Dhani Harrison, George Martin, Olivia Harrison, Jeff Lynne
Executive producers: Margaret Bodde, Scott Pascucci
Producers: Olivia Harrison, Nigel Sinclair
Editor: David Tedeschi