The Concert for George Movie Review

In The Concert for George -- a musical tribute to the late George Harrison -- Eric Clapton remarks that Harrison, a longtime friend, would not have wanted this concert held for him. He was not one to have a fuss made over him. From a man deemed the "quiet Beatle" this seems appropriate.

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.

Comments

TK's picture

TK

"Concert for George" is an incredible musical experience. I have loaned my copy of the DVD and everyone has returned it with the same glowing comments - "Eric Clapton is incredible," "Dhani looks just like his dad," and "I didn't know that George Harrison wrote that much music." Those of us who loved him knew it all along.I took the DVD up to my brother's "unofficial" high school reunion, popped it in and before long, kids and adults began drifting in to watch it. I started it with "George's Band," and after it was finished, they wanted to see the rest of the DVD. I was happy to oblige.I'm not crazy about Tom Petty's "Taxman." He did much better on the other songs he played. That was the only song that is best skipped.My favorites of course are Clapton's "While my Guitar Gently Weeps" (who would know it better?) and "Beware of Darkness." The latter is a great song and Clapton raised it to an even higher level. I also wish that Billy Preston would record "My Sweet Lord." It was as if George wrote that song for Billy.Anoushka and the Indian musicians give breath-taking performances. I thank all of the musicians who performed, especially Eric Clapton. The love that bonded every person on that stage was overpowering. Their interpretations of George Harrison's work prove what a great songwriter he was.

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The Concert for George Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: PG-13, 2003

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