The Sixth Beatle?

By Theroux, Paul | Newsweek International, October 3, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Sixth Beatle?


Theroux, Paul, Newsweek International


Byline: Paul Theroux; Theroux is the author, most recently, of The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments From Lives on the Road.

George Harrison was liberated by rock and roll. Turns out Martin Scorsese was too.

The three-hour film (to be aired in two parts by HBO on Oct. 5 and 6) is one of Scorsese's most personal documentaries--which, from the maker of the intimate, self-probing Italianamerican, is saying a great deal.

"I think of what I felt when I played the first disc on vinyl of All Things Must Pass," he recalled in his home in New York not long ago, while we sat flanked by classic movie posters and near one of his prized possessions, displayed under glass, the slightly threadbare and spectral-looking red shoes from the 1948 movie of the same name. "It was hearing the sound of his guitar and listening to the lyrics--the Phil Spector sound also helped. There was something about the way he plays his guitar, something magical that happens -- It's something oddly ritualistic, the way that bells are played in a Buddhist ceremony, or church music to a certain extent. I mean, this is the connection to me over the years--this is going back to 1970. That's a long time. I still have the LP."

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 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."

The fragile ragazzo was raised in a small apartment in Little Italy, in postwar frugality, rarely venturing uptown, believing he might have a vocation as a priest, slightly bewildered by the dazzle of the '60s, his head ultimately turned, his heart liberated, by European films and rock and roll.

George Harrison spoke of himself in similar terms, as a skinny lad raised in humble circumstances, the tiny row house in Liverpool, his father's vegetable garden, among the craters and ruins from German bombs, and his own joyous liberation through rock and roll. George's teenage solitude gave him the time and inclination to acquire a precocious guitar-playing skill. In an impromptu audition with Paul McCartney and John Lennon on the top deck of a Liverpool bus, he played Duane Eddy's "Raunchy" with such panache, he made instant friends and joined the band.

"He had everything so young--everything was possible. He was struggling for his own creativity--for his creativity to be recognized," Scorsese said. "But he wouldn't have been able to create All Things Must Pass had he not gone through the relationship--the family relationship of the Beatles. That's what you pay. That's the price you pay."

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. …

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