George Harrison: A video miscellany
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On Wednesday, HBO will premiere Martin Scorsese’s ‘George Harrison: Living in the Material World,’ his big documentary on the ‘quiet Beatle.’ (My review is here.) Although the film, which concludes Thursday, is three and a half hours long, it necessarily omits much, including the clips embedded below, offered as a supplement and appetizer.
Directed by Richard Lester from a script by Welsh-born Liverpudlian Alun Owen, who hung around the group to catch the music of their individual voices, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (1964) helped establish the characters we have come to think of as the Beatles, and that it worked so well argues for its truth. In this scene, maybe the film’s most quoted, Harrison displays the affable, unaffected cool that made him many a fan’s fave Fab. (Letters read in ‘Material World’ establish that ‘drag’ was definitely in George’s vocabulary; I don’t know about ‘grotty.’) A bonus non-embedded clip, in which Harrison teaches John Junkin to use a straight razor, is here.
‘Help’ (1965), the international pop-camp adventure romp that followed ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ was less subtle and real. But it did give George the chance to sing one of his own songs, in a field full of tanks. All the Beatles were funny Beatles -- it’s what endeared them even to people not attuned to their music -- but Harrison, who would mortgage his home to produce ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian,’ was the one who had the strongest connection to and affection for comedy. (Read The Times’ Randy Lewis on the Harrison wit here.) In these scenes from ‘Rutland Weekend Television,’ a mid-1970s series created by Python Eric Idle and Neil Innes, from the Bonzo Dog Band (featured in ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ and an influence on Python), Harrison plays himself as a wannabe actor/pirate.
Innes and Idle would also create the 1978 Bizarro-world Beatles parody ‘The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash,’ produced by Lorne Michaels of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ with cameos by a host of first-generation ‘SNL’ stars. Harrison appeared, as well, as a TV interviewer, seen below talking to Python Michael Palin (playing a version of Apple publicist Derek Taylor) and Small Face/Rolling Stone Ron Wood as a Hell’s Angel. As ‘Living in the Material World’ relates, Apple was indeed briefly taken over by a visiting gang of Angels; Harrison, who had casually invited them to stop by, was also taxed with getting them to leave -- with better results than counterpart Stig O'Hara (Ricky Fataar, on stretcher), so much the Quiet Rutle that he never spoke at all.
In this second-season ‘SNL’ appearance, Harrison and host Paul Simon (another cameo in ‘All You Need Is Cash’), play a sweet version of George’s sweetest song. (Simon has been performing the song live this year.) The episode’s cold opening featured George and Lorne Michaels haggling over the money previously offered the Beatles to reunite on the show. George: ‘I’ve come all this way, $3,000 that was the deal.’ Lorne: ‘I thought you would understand that if it was $3,000 for four people, it would only be $750 for one.’ George: ‘It’s pretty chintzy.’
In May 1997 on VH1, Harrison made his last television appearance, alongside Ravi Shankar and Shankar’s wife, Sukanya, to promote Shankar’s ‘Chants of India,’ which he had produced. Coaxed to play something himself -- to play ‘Something’ himself -- he finally reached back for this:
-- Robert Lloyd