But the real stars of the show — the ones who provided an emotional wallop — were sitting around us as we watched Gibney’s documentary about Scientology, Going Clear, at its Sundance premiere.
There was Sara Goldberg, who had been forced by Scientology officials to make a choice between her son and her daughter because of the toxic “disconnection” policy. There was Spanky Taylor, who had been forced to rescue her infant daughter from filthy conditions at the cadet org and make a run for it. That daughter, Vanessa, was in attendance too. And so was Marc Headley, who doesn’t appear in the film but references are made to him, and as we were walking out of the theater, I could see that he was in tears.
“Finally, this is what we’ve been waiting for,” he told me.
Going Clear is not only the single best film or television show made about Scientology, it’s masterful storytelling and it packs a serious punch squarely at the people who have allowed the organization’s abuse to go along for so long.
Tom Cruise and John Travolta, you are now on notice.
Because Gibney’s film was based on Lawrence Wright’s epic 2013 book of the same name, we knew that it would have a strong Hollywood angle. But this is a punch to the gut that will be hard for the celebrities to dodge.
We hear from Marty Rathbun, for example, that when he was auditing Cruise, the actor was frustrated in his relationship with Nicole, and wished he knew what she was doing — he half-joked about wishing she was being wiretapped. Rathbun told church leader Miscavige about what Cruise had said, and Miscavige took it seriously — get it done, Miscavige said. Rathbun was also told to convince Isabella and Connor Cruise that their adoptive mother was a “suppressive person” to assure that Tom not only broke up with Nicole but ended up with the children.
UPDATE AND CORRECTION: We had heard the allegation by Marty Rathbun that Scientology tried to drive a wedge between Isabella and Connor and their mother, Nicole. But Rathbun pointed out that the wiretapping allegations are new and he’s right. He had told this numerous times to news organizations, but Gibney is the first to make it public.
There are numerous surprises here — including first-person accounts by Sara Northrup, L. Ron Hubbard’s second wife, read by an actress for the film — that have never been made public before. Also, many new photos and film footage that are amazing.
But for the most part, this is not new material. These are not secrets. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that for two hours, Alex Gibney has put together a spellbinding tale about Hubbard, a madman who created “psychological folk art” as Wright called it, in order to deal with his own mental demons, and in the process roped in thousands of others.
We were spot on when we predicted the eight former Scientologists who were interviewed for the film — Jason Beghe, Tom DeVocht, Sara Goldberg, Paul Haggis, Marty Rathbun, Mike Rinder, Spanky Taylor and Hana Whitfield. And they are terrific and used to the best possible effect.
Your proprietor also gets considerable screen time, which we were very humbled about, and prepare for things to get really busy at this website!
All in all, a devastating portrayal of a totalitarian organization whose tax exemption should be under question, and whose celebrities need to be called out for their complicity. This will hit hard when it plays on HBO. We can hardly wait.
We have to rush now to join the HBO party being thrown for its documentary filmmakers. We will post many photos and videos tomorrow. In the meantime, thanks for keeping up the party here in the Bunker!
Some additional notes before we rush off…
— Really superb footage was found by Gibney’s team from all eras of Scientology. From film of the Sea Org on the Apollo, to Miscavige working in his office with Marty Rathbun, to extended cuts from the War Is Over announcement in 1993.
— The music in this movie has a kind of throwback 1950s science fiction feel to it in places — it’s eerie and unsettling, and it goes perfectly with the content.
— Jason Beghe and Paul Haggis could not have been better. They both cracked up the audience numerous times. These guys are accomplished and funny, and Haggis is so great when he’s trying to explain how he felt when he read the OT 3 materials — “What the FUCK?”
— Indies, your man Hubbard does not get a pass in this film. Larry Wright’s book hammered L. Ron, and so does Gibney’s film.
— There is so much packed into this two-hour film, but even Gibney get couldn’t everything in. There’s nothing about Shelly Miscavige and her disappearance, for example.
— One of the things we try to do at this website is put a lot of disparate events and stories into a coherent narrative. And ‘Going Clear’ does this to great effect. It’s so important to see the entire arc of elements — from Hubbard to the Sea Org to the IRS to Tom Cruise — in a coherent whole, and Gibney succeeded beautifully.
UPDATE: We’re seeing that a lot of the press coverage is focused on the “Scientology broke up Tom and Nicole” thing, which is a bit disappointing. If that’s all you take away from this film — why a couple of movie stars broke up more than a decade ago — you’re really missing the impact of this movie.
But we think most people who actually sit through it will come away with two questions in their minds: Why does this organization still have tax exempt status, and when is Tom Cruise going to wake up?
Posted by Tony Ortega on January 25, 2015 at 20:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts