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Old Sep 23, 2011, 09:39 AM   #1
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Default Speaking for the Quiet Beatle: Olivia Harrison Discusses the George Harrison Film

Speaking for the Quiet Beatle: Olivia Harrison Discusses the George Harrison Film

By DAVE ITZKOFF, The New York Times

Friday, September 23, 2011

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/20...er=rss&emc=rss


Olivia Harrison. (Richard Perry/The New York Times)

The four men who made up the Beatles are, to the vast majority of us, larger-than-life figures who made a tremendous and lasting impact on music, film and fashion and in numerous other arenas of popular culture. But to a select few, they are just Ė or are also Ė people: friends, siblings, parents, husbands. Among the members of that exclusive club is Olivia Harrison, who married George Harrison in 1978 and remained with him until his death in 2001. Ms. Harrison, who is the mother of Harrisonís son, Dhani, does not consider herself a celebrity and does not fully embrace the spotlight, but she has become a guardian of her husbandís legacy and of the mementos and artifacts he left behind at Friar Park, their sizable estate in Henley-on-Thames, England.

Many of these letters and recordings Ė along with the lives of the people behind them Ė are revealed in a new Martin Scorsese documentary, ďGeorge Harrison: Living in the Material World,Ē which will be shown in two parts, on Oct. 5 and 6, on HBO. It is a film for which Ms. Harrison serves as an interview subject as well as a producer, and a project with which she is still trying to get comfortable. For an article about the documentary in this Sundayís Arts & Leisure section, Ms. Harrison spoke about the development of the project, her life with George Harrison and how she learned to share it with the cameras. These are excerpts from that conversation.

Q.How did you and Martin Scorsese first become connected on this project?

A.I went to see ďNo Direction Home,Ē which I thought was brilliant. And some production companies were approaching me to do a documentary on Georgeís life. And I had so many requests, eventually, I thought, someoneís going to do this. Two months after he died, somebody wanted to do it. I really didnít want someone who didnít know George, who wasnít involved with the family, to take on the project. Marty was approached, and he was very interested in George and interested in his journey. Martyís really looking for the journey and the man.
Q.Had you already started organizing Georgeís possessions and archives in preparation for a film?

A.I had started gathering things, but it was always after the fact. It doesnít usually happen that way, where you have an archive and then you do a project. I mean, normal people do that. People who are on top of life, I donít know how they manage. George had wanted to do his own anthology, from the time the Beatles had their anthology in 1995. When four people do a story, itís ďRashomon.Ē He had a series of cameras from the time I met him. Movie cameras, 8-mil cameras. DVs, Hi-8s, Super VHS, U-matics. He said once, ďIím stockpiling all this material for when Iím dead,Ē but this was 20 years ago. He just wanted to share what he loved with people and his friends.

Q.When he would talk about his own death so matter-of-factly, was that just his morbid sarcasm?

A.There wasnít a real divide between life and death for George. Even though, yes, he was human and he wanted to live, he didnít see it so defined. He saw similarities in the sacred and the profane, in life and death. But it wasnít morbid at all. He wanted to make something fun. I decided to do what I knew he would have done.

Q.So all these items of his Ė were you just keeping them in a vault in Friar Park?

A.No vault. Lots of drawers, cupboards, roof space, basements. Just everywhere. Always cassettes, there were a lot of cassettes around. And one of them said, ďSitar lesson.Ē And it was 1966 and it was his first sitar lesson with Ravi Shankar. And you hear Ravi saying, ďNow, for our first lessonÖĒ To me, thatís just fantastic.

Q.Were these items organized around the house in a deliberate way?

A.I think it was thoughtful, but at the same time, there were so many drawers and so many rooms that he would just throw things in there and thatís what would stay. Occasionally I would find something and go, ďWow, look at this, what I found in the drawer.Ē And heíd say [stolidly] ďI know itís there. I put it there.Ē And Iíd say, ďOh, O.K. So thatís why itís there.Ē

Very often he wouldnít unpack a suitcase, so thereíd be like a time capsule. And youíd find a local currency, and souvenirs and Polaroids. He left Ė and I think this came from his motherís house Ė a rusty tin box, and in the box was football cards and lyrics written in a very young hand. I didnít want to disturb any of it.

Q.Was it hard for you to part with all these personal items so that the movie could be made?

A.Now, in hindsight, I see that they were very patient with me, because I couldnít let go of anything. The production team came over, spent a lot of time and slowly pried things from my hands. We figured out a way to transfer all the home movies. I didnít want to send them out anywhere. It was my life. So, we did that in the house. And one of my sonís school friends, whoís become our archivist and who knew George, he was around a lot of the time and transferred all the DVs.

Q.Since George is no longer with us, do you feel you have an obligation to tell his story in his absence and to carry on his legacy?

A.Honestly, I have an overdeveloped sense of duty, I think. Itís not what I want to do. Itís not a carrot for me, at all. In fact, this film is really making me want to go hide somewhere. Itís my life. Everybody says, ďGeorge, he was such a private person, why are you doing this?Ē And he was, but he was out there in the world. I know that he would have done his own story. By default, I have to be the one. Iím talking to you but Iím not talking to everybody and Iím saying, no, I do not want to be on television. Iím not a celebrity.

Q.Is there a moment at which you have to overcome your desire for privacy and put yourself out there, if only for the sake of this documentary?

A.The moment youíre talking about is now. I canít say Iím really prepared. I almost donít want people to see it. Itís like showing everybody into your most private place. But at the same time, I think itís important. If thereís going to be a film made about George, then the most important thing was that his essence be represented and the truth be represented, and that is what Marty has done. And I know itís truthful because it makes me squirm. [laughs]
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Old Sep 23, 2011, 09:39 AM   #2
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Q..Now that youíve seen the documentary yourself, what do you think of it?

A.Every time I see the first part, I think, ďGod, itís so much about the Beatles. Why is this about the Beatles? Itís never going to end.Ē And then you realize: Exactly. Thatís how Marty gives you the idea of how it must have felt. Youíre never going to get out of this. And I think thatís brilliant storytelling.

Q.Youíre interviewed in the documentary but youíre also one of its producers. Were you telling Scorsese and his team how you wanted certain parts of the story told, or what you wanted them to stay away from?

A.No, there were questions, like, ďWhy are you telling this story? Why is this so important?Ē I donít know the filmmaking process. The whole point of having a director and a storyteller like Marty is to let him tell the story, and I am so glad that he did. Dhani was very helpful to me in Ė his feeling that the dark and the light, and the good and the bad have to be told. You canít just have nice things.

Q.You realize, of course, going into this that a Scorsese film about George Harrison will inevitably have to tell the story behind the creation of ďLayla.Ē

A.[pretends to cover her ears] La la la la la la. [laughs] There were certain things that I know, with my life with George, did not define our lives. Now maybe it defined a certain period of time, but in hindsight, you look back at things and think, Whatís the big deal? Youíre 23 years old. You look at a 22-year-old, a 23-year-old, and you say, O.K., well, youíre young. Is that really who defined me in life? There are certain things that I didnít think should be so definitive of Georgeís life. Same with the attack on us. I didnít think that should be a defining moment, but in actual fact, it was something really profound came out of that, and that was the reason to talk about it.

Q.Is it important to you that history preserve George in some way? Do there need to be projects like this from time to time that remind audiences who he was?

A.No, I donít feel people need to be reminded. I think one just hopes, as you would about anyone, that they donít become caricatures of themselves. But when he used to be asked, how would you like to be remembered, he said, [imitates his clenched accent] ďI donít care, I donít care if Iím remembered.Ē And I really think he meant that. Not in a sarcastic way, but itís like, Why do you have to be remembered? Whatís the big deal?

Q.I canít imagine a world where people donít know who the Beatles are, and then I see anecdotal evidence that younger generations arenít as interested in them or donít know who they are. Could their music ever be forgotten?

A.Georgeís music is there. He was a beautiful musician and he had a beautiful voice, and he had a fantastic touch on the guitar and I miss that touch. But Iím not doing it to promote him or to make him a legend, or try to make him anything. His music is there. Iím sure it goes for all musicians Ė how music can change someoneís life and really lead them somewhere. I think for George, he talked about the inner journey and that was very important to him, although he was yin-yang. He could hang with the best of them. [laughs] He was a scoundrel yogi. Thatís what I loved about him, because he was honest. He was right up front about it. ďIím bad? O.K., Iím bad.Ē

Q.He certainly seems like someone who did not do anything by half-measures.

A.Thatís really true. We knew a lot of racing drivers and itís the same thing. Youíre just not going to know how raucous you can get on a guitar until you crank it up to 10. So he lived life like that. He said, ďIím lucky, Iíve got a tilt mechanism.Ē And I used to look at him and go, ďWell, your tilt mechanism goes beyond mine.Ē He felt he always knew when to come back, but it can be a dangerous way to live. Because he had an inner anchor and a very pronounced consciousness Ė not conscience, but consciousness Ė he knew: This was bad, Iíve got to get back. And maybe that was the Catholic guilt he was always trying to leave behind. Maybe he never did. Maybe that was the tilt mechanism, I donít know.

Q.Through the band youíre also connected to the extended Beatle family, the band membersí spouses and children. Whatís your relationship like with them?

A.Theyíve been the most kind, embracing people in my life. The children, Paulís family especially, Iím really close to them. Dhaniís close to the girls as well, and itís an odd thing. They know what itís like to have a dad, as a Beatle. With it comes certain baggage. Theyíre siblings, they understand, they get it. They roll their eyes at the same things. [laughs]

Q.With the release of the documentary, does it feel as if youíre closing a chapter in your life? Is this the last substantial thing you want to say about George?

A.This is the definitive story. It is the definitive project for me. I donít think thereís anything more I can do. Thatís one reason I tried to just open up, as much as I possibly can. You canít do this again. Martyís told this story. Itís a whole life from beginning to end. There isnít anything else to be done. Thereís a lot of music that was never finished, beautiful tunes, beautiful guitar riffs, just vamping over and over, that I could listen to forever. But I donít know what one does with that. I have some other projects I want to do, and they are sort of to do with George, but not overtly.

Q.Does putting this film out there set you free? Is it a way of saying to the world, ďIíve dug deep into myself to give you this, but that entitles me to not have to keep doing it?Ē

A.Thank you very much for saying that. You could just say that I said that.
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Old Sep 23, 2011, 10:10 AM   #3
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This is making me want to see this more and more.
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Old Sep 23, 2011, 12:33 PM   #4
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Me, too, BB! And thanks, Paulrus for posting. Lucy also got this posted in the "News About the Documentary" thread... but I'd like to leave both up and posted. Some people might be inclined to check one place or the other. Great article!!!
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