The Concert for George Movie Review
I hope Harrison's friends and family don't mind if I challenge the man's opinions. The Concert for George is necessary, as it takes a good look at the human, familial side that does exist in rock and roll. It's the antithesis of another first-rate concert movie, The Band's The Last Waltz (1978), where you got the feeling the longtime bandmates couldn't wait to get the damn thing over and done with. Martin Scorsese filmed Robbie Robertson and company as if they were performing in separate halls. In the latter concert, there's a feeling that the performers need to be there, that they need the comfort of each other. The stage is crammed with musicians.
Filmed on November 29, 2002 -- one year to the day after Harrison's death -- at Royal Albert Hall in London, the event features a bevy of A-list musicians. Among the notables: musical director Clapton, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (who do a tremendous version of "Taxman"), ace session drummer Jim Keltner and organist/singer Billy Preston (one of two people on the planet to record with both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones).
The performances are uniformly excellent. You can see the participants' reasons for being there, especially in Preston's renditions of "My Sweet Lord" and "Isn't It a Pity", where his soulful finger work and rich singing carry the songs to a higher level. Clapton -- finally putting down that blasted acoustic guitar for a minute -- sounds reborn on countless songs. He proves again why he is, and always will be, a rock star.
Director David Leland wisely lets the music speak for itself. The cameras get close to the performers, allowing us to see their intensity and effort. He wisely inserts most of his interviews before the songs begin. In addition, the subjects get right to the point, which is a big deal when the music is this good. The interviews, however, do yield some cool tidbits of information.
"Handle with Care" (the hit song from Harrison's super group, The Traveling Wilburys) was mostly composed at a barbecue. Harrison loved Monty Python, even telling them that he felt the Beatles' spirit was carried on in the troupe. Harrison also loved ukuleles, which provides the concert's highlight: McCartney starting off Harrison's beautiful ballad "Something" on the tiny instrument, before it morphs into a sweeping, majestic version complete with what looks like three drummers and a nice sized orchestra.
It's a little bit of grandeur dedicated to Harrison, who by most accounts, was a pretty modest fellow. The movie, to its immense benefit, has the same unpretentious feel. There's no artifice or rock star swagger in any of the performances. What we see in The Concert for George are people expressing their feelings in the best way that they know how, regardless of their celebrity or musical skill. It's not only terrific music, but a terrific send-off.
The DVD has two versions of the concert -- the theatrical version with added material and the straight-up uncut version of the concert. The mini-box set also includes a beautifully produced booklet about Harrison.