Tribute By Monica Sullivan
George Harrison's favorite movie was “The Producers,” a classic comedy-that so inspired him that he went on to become a producer himself, not in the give-me-your-lousy-your-trite-your-untalented-artists-utopia that Apple unsuccessfully tried to nurture, but in the let's-make-a-movie-the-edgier-&-more-offensive-the-better. First, he made a gag appearance as a journalist in 1978's “All You Need Is Cash,” co-written by his buddy Eric Idle. The following year, when backing for Monty Python's “Life Of Brian” fell through, George made good his promise to secure the film's budget by mortgaging his house & office in exchange for a bank loan. Luckily, the hilarious satire & its blasphemous theme song (“Look On The Bright Side Of Life”) became audience favorites & George even got to make another gag appearance.
Handmade Films, one of the leading independent production companies over the next decade, was born. George often said that he would never have produced “The Long Good Friday” if he had known how violent it was, but the film launched Bob Hoskins & Helen Mirren as international stars & helped to revitalize 1980's-style film noir. “Time Bandits” by Terry Gilliam was next, & although there was the usual creative squabbling, tiny Handmade Films survived the experience much better than Columbia Studios would by the time Gilliam got around to making “The Adventures Of Baron Munchhausen.” “The Missionary” was another irreverent view of organized religion, starring Michael Palin & Maggie Smith & “Privates On Parade” was military silliness, with John Cleese being especially silly. Other early eighties entries include “Monty Python Live At The Hollywood Bowl,” “Bullshot Crummond,” a spoof of the Bulldog Drummond entries, & “Scrubbers,” directed by Mai Zetterling. Palin & Smith returned in “A Private Function,” released the same month as Paul McCartney's stunningly less successful “Give My Regards To Broad Street.” “Water” gave audiences a chance to see George play with Eric Clapton & Ringo Starr in a Michael Caine comedy. Caine returned in 1986 for a character part in “Mona Lisa,” a change in career focus that would later result in two Academy Awards.
Under Neil Jordan's expert direction, Bob Hoskins gave an Oscar-worthy performance as great as any you will ever see on film, & both he & Jordan were welcomed to Hollywood with open arms & bulging wallets. If “Mona Lisa” was “Handmade Films” at its best, “Shanghai Surprise” with Sean Penn & Madonna, made the same year, was definitely its worst. I have yet to meet a soul who's sat through the entire picture. George often said that he produced films simply because he wanted to see them: the cult hits “Withnail & I” & “How To Get Ahead In Advertising,” both directed by Bruce Robinson & starring Richard E. Grant are good examples of his taste in abrasive comedies that relentlessly critique the world as we know it: Nothing is sacred & anything's good for a laugh. No bloke who loved Mel Brooks & Monty Python as much as George Harrison did can accurately be identified as QUIET. Without him, the music & movies of the late 20th century would have been very different & less fun. So would we all be.
© 2001 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 12/5/01
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