Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary about Scientology, Going Clear, had its second public showing last night at the Sundance Film Festival, and we got another chance to think about what’s in it and what makes it so compelling.
As you’ve probably noticed, the world’s press has seized on a segment of the film that takes only a minute or two in the two-hour feature documentary: Marty Rathbun’s explosive wiretapping allegations. Rathbun says that it was his job to drive a wedge between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and that when Cruise said in a counseling session that he wanted to have Nicole’s phone tapped to find out who she was talking to, Scientology leader David Miscavige instructed Rathbun to make it happen.
Rathbun doesn’t say in the film who he then hired to carry out the wiretap, but we know that private investigator Anthony Pellicano is currently in prison in part because he was convicted of wiretapping, and among the things that were found on his computer by authorities in 2001 was an illegally recorded phone call between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
Well, now we have some idea who may have hired Pellicano for that particular job.
We’re getting questions from around the world about those allegations, and about the impact this film will have on Scientology. Last night, we were interviewed with Mike Rinder and Marc Headley by Bryan Seymour, the top-notch Australian TV journalist…
But there are many other new things that Alex Gibney has put into this film besides wiretapping allegations, and they really stood out to us on a second viewing.
The archival footage in Going Clear, for example, is stunning. Longtime Scientology watchers are very familiar with the 1968 Granada documentary of L. Ron Hubbard aboard the yacht Apollo. But Gibney tracked down the original filmmaker, and he found an “off the record” conversation with Hubbard in which he admits (off-camera) to abuses in Scientology. Gibney played that audio over the footage of the Commodore mugging for the camera.
The first-person account by Sara Northrup, L. Ron Hubbard’s second wife, is also devastating. Lauren Wolf, who was Lawrence Wright’s researcher, told us that some of this material did appear in Wright’s book, but some of it is new. And Gibney pairs it with new photographs and location footage for maximum effect.
In this second viewing, we really enjoyed the work put in by Gibney and his crew when it came time to illustrate the “Xenu” material from Scientology’s notorious “OT 3” course. It’s surreal and fun, mixing the imagery of DC-8s dropping bombs on volcanoes with Hana Whitfield and Paul Haggis struggling to express how much it messed with their heads when they experienced it. For the first time since South Park portrayed this material in 2005, the Xenu story has been given the lively treatment it deserves.
Mike Rinder made an interesting observation after this second viewing. He noted that the real impact for the viewer comes less from the interviewees than from Scientology itself. Jason Beghe, Paul Haggis, Spanky Taylor, Hana Whitfield and the rest are superb in telling about their experiences, but then Gibney will display amazing archival footage, or glimpses from church publications or church documents that really drives a point home. Sure, the church is calling everyone in the film a bunch of liars, but it is Scientology’s own footage and photos and crazy behavior that makes this movie work.
As for calling people liars (and worse) at its Freedom magazine website, Scientology really stepped in it, and we hope the rest of the media will keep this in mind. For years, former church members and some journalists have been smeared by websites that hid their ownership. We knew that Scientology operated these anonymous web pages, and used them to post information that was in some cases gathered during confidential counseling sessions. But the church wouldn’t admit that it was really behind these websites. Now, suddenly, it’s taken a lot of the material that was on those sites which were aimed at Tom DeVocht and Marty Rathbun and Paul Haggis, and it’s put them on Freedom’s own website.
In other words, Scientology has dropped all pretense about its smear tactics. Of course it was behind those anonymous attack sites in the past, just as we said they were. And now, instead of asking the people in this film what they think about Scientology calling them liars, why doesn’t major media ask Scientology how something that calls itself a church could operate anonymous smear websites designed to destroy reputations?
Almost three years ago, after witnessing the testimony of Debbie Cook in a Texas courtroom about the shocking abuse in “The Hole” — Scientology’s prison for its own executives — your proprietor felt compelled to write an open letter to Tom Cruise. We explained to Tom that revelations about abuse in Scientology were multiplying, and he needed to speak out or be seen as a complicit partner in it…
Here’s what you must begin to deal with, Tom: you are the public face for an organization that is becoming known for confining and torturing its own executives, that is employing children of public school age in ways that would make a nineteenth-century foreman blush. You are the symbol for an organization that beats confessions of homosexuality out of high-ranking members. That asks children to work around the clock without a chance to get real schooling. That does all this with claims that it is somehow helping the planet.
Tom, you’re in a bad position here. All of these things, they’re being done at the behest of your best friend, the man who runs Scientology, and who appears obsessed with making you a kind of unofficial second pope. Increasingly, you will be seen as a tacit partner in these practices.
We still feel that way. And now, Alex Gibney’s film makes the same point, but with the force of a nuclear blast.
Going Clear is not subtle. L. Ron Hubbard is portrayed as a madman whose mania was fully encoded in Scientology, so that all church members end up running his case, not their own, and end up adopting his ways of thinking and his neuroses. And in the second half, the movie unsparingly examines David Miscavige’s rise to power, his abusive use of that control, and his push for the accumulation of stunning wealth.
And he might not have been able to do all that without the help of his pal, Tom Cruise. But will that always be the case?
If Marty Rathbun once was ordered to drive a wedge between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Gibney’s film, in part with the help of Rathbun, pretty openly tries to drive a wedge between Miscavige and Cruise. Not only does the movie hit Cruise hard, it also argues that the actor should be leading a celebrity revolt against Scientology’s present leader.
No wonder Miscavige is acting so terrified by the wider release of this film.
Nice short piece by the AP…
Bryan Seymour tells us this is Australia’s biggest morning news show…
Posted by Tony Ortega on January 27, 2015 at 07:00
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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
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SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts