The Concert for Bangladesh


1h 35m 1972

Brief Synopsis

The 1971 Concert for Bangaladesh organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar is chronicled in this documentary. Two benefit concerts were performed at Madison Square Garden in order to raise money for East Pakistani refugees who were first victims of a cyclone in 1970, and then of the Bangladesh

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Apr 1972
Premiere Information
New York and Los Angeles openings: 23 Mar 1972
Production Company
Apple Films, Inc.
Distribution Company
Apple Films, Inc.; Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
New York City, New York, USA; New York City--Madison Square Garden, New York, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m

Synopsis

The film opens at a press conference in which former Beatle George Harrison explains that he decided to organize a charity concert to benefit the refugees of Bangladesh when his friend, Bengali musician Ravi Shankar, voiced his concern about the inhumane conditions the refugees had to endure because of the country's poverty and political turmoil. Harrison contacted his musician friends and asked them to participate in a benefit concert for Bangladesh. Harrison is then shown onstage at Madison Square Garden in New York, where he is welcomed by a cheering crowd. After explaining that the first part of the concert will feature Indian music, he introduces sitar-player Shankar, Ulsted Ali Akbar Khan, who plays the lute-like sarod, Alla Rakah, who plays the tabla drums and Kamala Chakravarty, who plays the tamboura, another lute-like instrument. As the musicians perform a raga based on a folk tune from Bangladesh, footage is shown of refugees suffering from disease and malnutrition. Following the raga, Harrison, his former band mate, Ringo Starr, and guitar player Eric Clapton take the stage to perform three songs written by Harrison: "Wah¿Wah", "My Sweet Lord" and "Awaiting on You All." Billy Preston then accompanies himself on the keyboard as he sings "That's the Way God Planned It," ending his performance with a spirited, impromptu dance. After Ringo sings his hit song "It Don't Come Easy," musician Leon Russell joins Harrison to sing "Beware of Darkness," after which Harrison introduces the assembled musicians. Following Harrison's song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," Russell performs a medley comprised of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Young Blood." Harrison, joined by guitarist Pete Ham, then plays an acoustic guitar version of "Here Comes the Sun." After this, Bob Dylan comes onstage to sing his songs "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall," "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Just Like a Woman." Harrison then plays his song "Something," and concludes the concert with his composition "Bangla Desh," making a plea to the audience to "help save some lives," while newsreels are shown onscreen of the sick, starving and homeless refugees of Bangladesh.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Apr 1972
Premiere Information
New York and Los Angeles openings: 23 Mar 1972
Production Company
Apple Films, Inc.
Distribution Company
Apple Films, Inc.; Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
New York City, New York, USA; New York City--Madison Square Garden, New York, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Although reviews listed varying running times for the film, the viewed print was 139 minutes and the New York Times and copyright statement listed a running time of 140 minutes. The film closes with the following written prologue: "During the struggle for independence from Pakistan millions of Bangladeshi refugees fled to neighbouring India to escape hunger, disease and bloodshed. The crisis deepened when massive floods hit the region." The concert for Bangladesh, held on August 1, 1971 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, was organized by former Beatle George Harrison to benefit the people uprooted in the turmoil of the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. In 1947, the land mass of India was divided into the primarily Hindu state of India and the Muslim states of East and West Pakistan.
       In 1971, East Pakistan, which was comprised of mostly Bengalis, revolted because the balance of power resided in West Pakistan. When East Pakistan demanded autonomy and its own state, Bangladesh, West Pakistan retaliated, resulting in a bloody conflict in which many East Pakistanis fled to India. The Bangladesh Liberation War lasted for nine months from March 25, 1971 -December 6, 1971, when Bangladesh was proclaimed an independent state due to the intervention of India. During that period, the displaced of people of East Pakistan suffered heavily, leading Bengali musician Ravi Shankar to ask Harrison for help in raising money for the refugees. The fundraiser for Bangladesh was the first star-studded benefit performance of its time.
       There were actually two concerts held on 1 Aug, one in the afternoon and one at night, raising a total of over $240,000 for Bangladesh relief, which was administered by UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund. According to the Los Angeles Times review, six 16mm cameras shot 100,000 feet of film during the concerts. Harrison and his co-producer, Allen Klein, head of the Beatles' Apple Film Company, originally planned to make a television documentary of the concert, but later decided to blow the film up to 70mm for feature release. A special features disc included in the film's 2005 DVD release noted that the 70mm transfer had never been done before because 35% of the picture image would be lost during the process. To preserve the quality, the lab had to blow up the picture frame by frame. The length of the film magazines also presented another problem to the filmmakers. Because the 16mm magazines contained only fifteen minutes of film, and all the cameras filmed simultaneously, they all ran out of film at the same time. As a result, there was no coverage of the concert during the reloading of the magazines. Filmfacts indicated that prints were blown up to only 35mm for some venues.
       The concert marked the first time that former Beatles band members Harrison and Ringo Starr performed onstage together since 1966, and Bob Dylan's first concert appearance in two years. In addition to the film, an album of the concert was released as a triple-LP box set produced by Harrison and Phil Spector. An onscreen statement notes: "Original soundtrack recording available on Apple Records." The film's soundtrack album won the 1972 Grammy for Album of the Year. According to an article in Time, New York magazine alleged that although Klein had pledged that Apple would make no money from the film and album releases, part of the proceeds from the album were unaccounted for. Klein sued New York for $150,000,000 in damages, but the outcome of that suit is unknown. A modern source adds that although the film and album made $15,000,000, the money was held in an Internal Revenue Service Escrow account for years because the concert organizers had not applied for tax-exempt status. It is uncertain how much money was actually distributed to refugee relief.
       Modern sources add that Klein, Spector and road manager Mal Evans can be seen in background shots. The New York Times review praised the straightforward approach of the film in contrast to other music documentaries, noting that "there are no unnecessary zooms, no lab-created light shows, almost no exploitation of the on-screen audience, no insistence that a concert of music is somehow a social revolution." On November 2, 2005, British television aired a special documentary on the concert titled The Concert for Bangladesh Revisited with George Harrison and Friends, directed by Claire Ferguson.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1972

Released in United States on Video September 29, 1993

Shot August 1, 1971.

Released in United States 1972

Released in United States on Video September 29, 1993