How to Tell You're Watching a Martin Scorsese Rock Documentary

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Four themes from films including the new George Harrison: Living in the Material World

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"Shine a Light"

Over more than 40 years in the movie business, Martin Scorsese has led two careers. Most famously, the Academy-Award-winning dramatic filmmaker has chronicled outcasts and their environments, be it that of a taxi driver, a boxer, or a mafia man. But he has also worked as a documentarian, capturing the stories of the musicians that have affected him and his generation. In 1978's The Last Waltz, 2005's No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, and the new George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Scorsese takes the familiar subjects of The Band, Bob Dylan and George Harrison and reframes them as outcasts of sorts, struggling to find the way toward happiness amid the demands of fame. (Shine a Light, his 2008 Rolling Stones performance doc, is basically a celebration of the band's longevity, so it stands apart from the mold a bit.)

The two-part George Harrison: Living in the Material World, which premiers tonight on HBO, offers a comprehensive chronicle of the Beatle's life and career, incorporating a wealth of classically Scorsesean techniques to portray Harrison as an artist in search of his ideal place in the world. With the first part of the documentary showing on Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST and the second installment at the same time on Thursday, it's a good time to take a look at some of the recurring features in Scorsese's rock docs:

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Robert Levin writes about film and other entertainment topics for amNewYork, Inside Jersey, Backstage, and elsewhere. He is a member of the New York Film Critics Online guild.

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