Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scorsese Got Lazy with Living in the Material World

I finally viewed Martin Scorsese's latest film, George Harrison: Living in the Material World. As an admirer of Scorsese's work and a long-time devotee of George, I expected a real treat for the eyes and ears. Much of the 3½-hour documentary please-pleased me, but I must confess that Scorsese's direction bored me to tears. For instance, the segment chronicling Harrison's 1999 stabbing at the hands of a mentally unstable intruder lacked any sort of Scorseseian drama. Scorsese glossed over the entire incident with nothing more than talk.

Whereas previous Scorsese films, such as Goodfellas and Gangs of New York, were chock full of graphic knife work meant to convey the visceral brutality of their characters' worlds, in the case of George Harrison, Scorsese strangely opted for empty, inert monologue. Why not recreate the moment—perhaps with a Daniel Day-Lewis cameo—and let the audience in on one of the most dramamtic moments in George's life? (Sure, Harrison's assailant probably never uttered anything about "rib or chop...loin or shank" as he attacked the Quiet Beatle, but the supremely talented Day-Lewis surely could sell such a recreation.)

This is not an oversight limited only to Scorsese's latest rock & roll biopic. One need only labor through The Last Waltz and witness the first indication that the music documentary is decidedly not Scorsese's milieu. Beyond Emmylou Harris tousling her gorgeous mane and the crazily attired Van Morrison high-kicking his way through "Caravan," the film is devoid of action. Sure, the musical performances are top-notch, but, overall, The Last Waltz is a snoozer. Where is the Joni Mitchell car chase? Where is Neil Young beating the daylights out of Rick Danko with a baseball bat? Where is Dr. John putting on 60 lb for the concert and punching a wall until his hands break? How could Scorsese permit the film's finale—The Band, Ringo Starr, and Ronnie Wood backing Bob Dylan as he performs "I Shall Be Released"—to progress as nothing more than a soulful sing-along when he could have turned it into an epic bloodbath? It's no surprise that The Last Waltz is one of Scorsese's lowest earning films—even the box-office flop Kundun outgrossed it almost 16-fold!

I haven't been this disappointed in a Martin Scorsese film since the stale popcorn in The King of Comedy.

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