2015; adapted and directed by Alex Gibney; 119 mins
Having not kept up with Alex Gibney’s latest for a couple of years, I think that now makes me about six or seven features behind. Between this and 2013’s We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks this one man documentary spunker has released The Armstrong Lie, Finding Fela, Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown and 2 films for ESPN. Before the end of this year, we shall also see Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine and the four hour Sinatra: All or Nothing at All. Well, fuck me! It was good to catch this one before the Church of Scientology tries to ban yet another release of this excellent film as they tried to do with the UK release earlier this year. I came to Going Clear as someone who knows next to nothing about The Church of Scientology. It charts the initial rise of the church in the post war period under the aegis of disturbed shitbag, L. Ron Hubbard and his subsequent attempts to keep the church alive until he disappeared from public view and the leadership was passed on to genuine shitbag, David Miscavige. Concurrent with this is the testimony of ex-Scientologists (including actors, directors and Scientology higher-ups) who explain the teachings and practices of the church and detail some of it’s darker and more nefarious goings on which would come round to bite them all. The most surprising thing with Alex Gibney’s prodigious output is how he manages to keep the quality of his work so high. The man must be bollocksed! I hope for his sake he’s got a holiday coming up. It’s also doubly surprising considering the dense nature of his work, in particular his focus on and fascination with institutions. To see him at his best, check out Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God. There is a balancing act that Gibney is incredibly adept at traversing. He is able to explain the details of a labyrinthine subject (e.g. religious institutions/high finance/news media) in roughly two hours. In doing so, he neither rushes the audience – thus confuses them – nor slows to a crawl and either getting bogged down in detail or patronising the layman. In this documentary, he manages to marshall all these elements into presenting an argument against the church based on their tax status and their grip over individuals through ‘auditing’ and surveillance. At the risk of sounding like Trinny and Susannah, the church’s public image is so utterly fucking ridiculous that it’s a surprise that anyone would go for it at all (nowadays, at least). With their big, blue, cartoon Mecca they have in L.A. and ridiculous sub-Nazi laser shows broadcast to all and sundry, they are comfortably the most aesthetically tasteless religion. What becomes more alarming, however, are the detailed accounts of physical abuse and the neglect of children. In the end, thank the American public for tuning in in their droves to HBO for this one and to distributors worldwide for taking the risk of legal action and making it a high profile documentary. If it turns up near you then buy a ticket for once and together we’ll make a difference by sitting on our lardy arses!