As other interviewers have remarked, Scorsese has a distinctive way of speaking, a tense and tumbling but precise delivery. He is, even at this high speed, at once the most responsive and reflective and reflective of men; he knows his mind and is generous in sharing opinions. His cinematic obsession is what Italians call dietrologia, “behind-ology,” the suspicious art of looking for what's at the back of it all.
“Music was transcendent in my life.,” he told me. “It took me to another level, to another place―images, fantasies, stories, people, colors―everything came to mind. And that's how I did my work. Through this music.” And he added, “It was like cinema. It made me live another way; it made me think another way.”
Scorsese's version of himself, strangely modest and self-effacing, is, “I was fearful and I had asthma. I still don't go into Central Park. Out of shyness, out of a forced reclusiveness as an asthmatic, I was not allowed to do many things, and so I didn't think about traveling that much. The way I was raised was, the only way you got out of the house was you got married.” (p.48)
Scorsese's solemn tone suggested that he could relate to George's ups and downs. George's Dark Horse tour was savaged, in the way that some of Scorsese's greatest films were initially greeted with bewilderment and scorn.
Scorsese agreed, saying, “In my own work I was in those areas not once but many times―coming up against a brick wall. I thought Raging Bull was the last picture I was ever going to make. A number of times I was that way, flattened out, and coming back. As George's story developed there was no way I couldn't relate to it in my own life.” (ibid.)
What is remarkable in Scorsese's documentary, something that has become apparent in the decade since George's death, is the uncanny symmetry of his life―a life lived to the fullest. His saturation in the material world drove him to seek spirit in things―and so the arc of his life seems a series of vanishings and reappearances, journeys there and back, even―as Scorsese shows―the portraits of him that seem iconic are various, a progression of so many styles, his faces, his features, his hair, his posture different in each one. Yet his gaze is unchanged, his eyes telling us that the same soul is inhabiting this body.
This sounds solemn, but George was a man of subtle and often self-mocking humor. He was interested in many things besides music, and although music was his first love, he was vitalized by travel, moviemaking, car racing. Consider his closest friends―the Pythons*3 Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle, and Jackie stuwart, Billy Preston*4, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar*5: the funniest men on the planet, the fastest, his most brilliant contemporaries in music.
Moviemaking was another enthusiasm. His friendship with the Pythons led to his bankrolling The Life of Brian(1979) and the founding of his own movie company, HandMade Films, which went on to make Mona Lisa, Time Bandits, Withnail and I, and many others. (pp.48-50)
For all their apparent similarities―their dedication to creativity, their love of life―the conspicuous difference between Scorsese and Harrison is their choice of habitat. Scorsese is the consummate New Yorker, sociable, street-wise, with a distinct aversion to foliage; George's preferred world was the pastoral―gardens, great lawns, and arbors―and his ideal was a tropical island, as remote as possible from the city. (p.50)
A gardener is inevitably someone with humility, who sees that these trees will eventually outlive him; the gardener is generous, optimistic, nurturing, taking pleasure in the planting but also make something beautiful for others. In George's case, the garden he made gave him the sense that he was living in isolation, on an island of his own making. “It's great when I'm in my garden,” he ks quoted as saying in the book of the film, a family album of extraordinary intimacy, edited by Olivia, “but the minute I go out the gate I think, what the hell am I doing here?”
Of George's passion for gardening, well documented in Scorsese's film, Olivia has said that his interest began with his father in his vegetable lot in Liverpool. But he went so much further. The most obvious characteristic of the houses that he built, or bought and fixed up in the course of his life, are the gardens he planned and planted. (ibid.)
Reflecting these crises, Scorsese wonders, “Is there any plan for our lives? No, there may not be. Maybe we are, ourselves―maybe we make the plan. We act out. We make our own meaning. And when the time comes, the man wil come in and take you away. He says, 'After all this, I'm being murdered in my own house...'”
For Scorsese, the conclusion is obvious: learning how to live is a preparation for learning how to die. “[George] says, 'I need to prepare to let go.' For me that's the whole film. The idea of the understanding that it's time to go. And that's what I had to get to. 'Murdered in my own house'--and because of that he starts to let go. It's stunning. (ibid.)