When a knife-wielding madman broke into George Harrison’s country mansion in 1999, the spiritual Beatle who melded sitar with psychedelia responded with a chant.
That small, strange detail is recounted almost offhandedly by George’s widow, Olivia, in Martin Scorsese’s affectionate, exhaustive two-part HBO documentary “George Harrison: Living in the Material World.” Harrison’s easily mocked mysticism has rarely seemed as sincere and hard-won as it does in Scorsese’s respectful, 3 1/2-hour profile.
With a clout no other filmmaker could top, Scorsese (with Olivia Harrison as a co-producer and interviewee) has recruited all the big players, from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Yoko Ono to George Martin, Phil Spector, Eric Clapton and Tom Petty. “George Harrison” likely will stand as the definitive documentary about Beatle No. 3.
Harrison himself is present too, ever blunt in interviews spanning his career. After the stabbing that weakened his fight against the cancer that would eventually kill him in 2001, Harrison reflected, “I’ve got a son who needs a father, but other than that I can’t think of much reason to be here.”
Moments like that might catch even well-versed Beatlemaniacs off-guard, though much else in “George Harrison” conforms to what we already know: Having enjoyed the spoils of rock stardom -- fame, money, drugs, women -- he turned to Eastern religion with a fervor only sampled by his bandmates.
Harrison was no saint, even if Scorsese’s film makes only vague allusions to his darker side.
“He did like women,” says a discreet Olivia, “and women liked him.” George, says Ono, “was very nice” but “didn’t mince words.”
Scorsese also skimps on details and characters he presumes need no explanation, particularly during the early Beatles era of Part One. Wikipedia searches on “Astrid Kirchherr” should soar this month.
The longer Part Two is more fleshed out, perhaps because Harrison’s solo career, so commercially successful throughout the 1970s, is ripe for revisiting. The hits, including “My Sweet Lord,” “Give Me Love” and “What Is Life,” sound fantastic in the documentary’s mix.
As Harrison himself said to Petty upon the death of fellow Traveling Wilbury Roy Orbison, “He’s still around. Just listen.’”
“George Harrison: Living in the Material World” airs Wednesday and Thursday on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
‘American Horror Story’
Two episodes into FX’s “American Horror Story” -- the fall season’s most audacious new series -- you may pick up allusions to “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Shining,” nurse-killer Richard Speck and the Columbine shootings.
This is a haunted house show that knows what scares America.
Co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are best known for producing “Glee,” but their new show falls closer to the duo’s more macabre seasons of “Nip/Tuck.” It’s scary, campy and way, way over the top.
Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights”) and Dylan McDermott (“The Practice”) play the Harmons, new owners of a creepy, suspiciously low-priced Victorian mansion in Los Angeles. Their troubled teenage daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) seems positively thrilled by the home’s history of murder and suicide.
Violet is equally taken with one of her dad’s psychiatric patients, a young man (Evan Peters) who dresses like Kurt Cobain and fantasizes about shooting up a school. He’s also capable of summoning sharp-toothed demons when bullies need terrorizing.
There’s both a spooky housekeeper (played, for reasons I won’t spoil, by two actresses, Frances Conroy and Alexandra Breckenridge) and an evil presence who favors head-to-toe S&M latex gear.
As if that’s not enough, a fabulously entertaining Jessica Lange saunters through as the loony Southern belle of a neighbor. With her Tippi Hedren hairdo and floral print silks, Lange seems to have escaped from one of those Grand Guignol 1960s flicks that brought Golden Age actresses back to the screen.
Lange’s politically incorrect jibes and malicious threats are delivered with a syrupy lilt. Her word for a girl with Down syndrome probably hasn’t been uttered on TV in decades, and is as startling as any of the butchery going on in the basement.
“American Horror Story” airs Wednesday on FX at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)