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Concert for George (PG)
Official Site
Cast: Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne, Ravi Shankar, Tom Petty, Billy Preston

Rating: out of 5

It seems School Of Rock isnít the only film rocking the socks off movie-goers this month. In fact, I may have found one that rocks even more.

News hit in November of 2001 that George Harrison, one quarter of the greatest rock band of all time, passed away after a long bout with cancer. It shouldnít have come as a surprise to anyone. His illness had been publicized weeks before and the reports made us all too aware that his final days were at hand. The world had plenty of time to prepare for this loss. There was no shock surrounding the death of this Beatle the way there was when John Lennon was killed in 1980. It was something we could all ease into like a warm (or rather cold) bath and yet, I remember feeling genuinely sad when I read the headline that Harrison was gone. I guess there was something intriguing about his quiet demeanor. He seemed to possess a shyness and restraint that people hungered desperately to break through. Luckily, Eric Claptonís concert for him on the one-year anniversary of his death seems to have found a way to penetrate that shell and expose the genius to us in a way Harrison himself never could.

Concert For George takes place against the beautiful background of the Royal Albert Hall in London. Thereís an almost eerie feeling about it. As the film opens into a dark stage we see Harrisonís wife lighting some sort of transcendental centerpiece as soft Indian music is performed in the background, all under the watch of an incredible portrait of the deceased hanging behind it all. Just as itís starting to seem more like a sťance than a celebration, Clapton and company enter stage left, plug in, and the rocking begins.

The concert itself is very much like a funeral. Close friends and family members pay their respects, say their piece about Harrison, and then celebrate his life by playing his music. As far as concert movies go, there is no real departure from the norm. There are nice interludes in between songs (and, somewhat disappointingly, during them) showing the tremendous cast rehearsing and goofing around while giving short interviews, usually pertaining to the songs theyíve chosen to do and why they were special to them.

The best part of the film is watching the high caliber musicians who have shared a relationship with Harrison in some way or another through the years. Obviously he and Clapton must have been close. After all, Clapton wooed Harrisonís wife, Patti, with the lyrics of Layla while the two were still married and ultimately married her himself after she and Harrison divorced. If you can stay friends after all that then youíve got something. Several former members of The Traveling Wilburys (a group Harrison co-founded in the seventies), including Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, offer up incredible performances. Petty lends his unique nasal twang to Taxman and Handle With Care, while Lynne sings back-up most of the night, but shines when doing a solo of The Inner Light, a lesser-known gem that was recorded with The Beatles. Speaking of the surviving members of the Fab Four, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney each offer their own takes on some great songs. McCartney in particular does a beautifully humble version of Something on the ukulele. Ravi Shankar, whose music is well known for influencing Harrisonís fascination with Indian culture and music, brings a dozen musicians to perform a beautiful piece that he wrote specifically for the occasion. Mr. Billy Preston, perhaps best known to Beatles fans for filling in on the Let It Be sessions and playing the Hammond organ on songs like Donít Let Me Down and Get Back, is a true highlight of the evening. Heís still truckiní and more impressive than ever. Given the task of singing lead on several songs, he delivers with that tremendous soul sound you wonít find on many Beatles numbers. Watching this guy play the organ is insane. During Isnít It A Pity he does about a 30-second, 90-mile-per-hour solo and doesnít look down once.

All of these performers highlight a period of time in Harrisonís life, but the one who perhaps was most meaningful is the one that we donít see enough of. Harrisonís teenage son, Dhani, is onstage throughout the entire film, palling around with Clapton, strumming along to every song and, most notably, creeping everyone out. It is downright bizarre how much he looks like his father. For this reason I was extremely disappointed not to see him do a number on his own. I donít care if he can sing or not, if he had done a Harrison song on his own it would have brought the house down without a dry eye.

The set list was very good. There are about equal parts of Beatles and Harrison solo songs. I was very pleased to hear many numbers from Harrisonís first solo album All Things Must Pass. Not enough people know this album and itís a damn shame. Perhaps my favorite moment is at the very end after everyone has joined together on stage after the final number. Joe Brown (an old Beatles friend whom they used to open for) makes his way to the front with a ukulele and quietly plays the old jazz tune Iíll See You In My Dreams as thousands of rose petals descend upon the crowd. This was by far the most seemingly out of place moment in the movie, and yet, for me, the most moving.

Clapton himself admits that Harrisonís low-key manner would have gotten in the way of this celebration if he were still alive. He would have modestly insisted that it was too much and might have even been a no-show. It seems sad that only now that heís gone we can all take a deep breath and tell him how great he was, but it was well worth the wait. There needed to be a celebration that showcased the life of this quiet genius and that celebration is one grand movie with a kick-ass soundtrack.

Bottom line: Concert For George is a must for hardcore Beatles fans and a safe bet for the casual rock fan to appreciate.

óCorey Herrick

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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