Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review of 'Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief'

A documentary about Scientology, based on a book, that reveals a lot about the inner workings of the 'church' but leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The main one is 'how come Scientology got to be so powerful when it's obviously ridiculous and run by repellent people?' L Ron Hubbard, the founder, was fat and ugly with bad teeth. So how come? Perhaps part of the answer is that there's nothing so stupid that it won't attract some people, and that the need to belong is so strong that once in some people will find any number of reasons not to leave, however nasty. Look at the WRP, for example. I do rather wonder if there was a relationship between the 'church' and some US government agencies; it does seem to have had rather an easy ride from the authorities. Trouble is that lots of the commentary on Scientology is almost as nutty as they are, so of course there are suggestions that it was a front for the CIA, and the Illuminati, and so on.

The film is a bit on the long side, with lots of testimony from ex-members about the nasty stuff they did, and how it ended up being done to them. I was really struck by the inter-cutting between clips of these people denying that they did some nasty stuff, and other later clips admitting that they had done the same nasty stuff; because what it shows is that demeanour is no guide to truthfulness. We tend to believe that we can tell when people are lying by looking at them. The movies and TV have taught us to believe that people look shifty when they are lying, and that we won't be taken in. Actually, they don't. Maybe decent people squirm a bit when they lie, but bad people, and people who think that it's OK to lie for a purpose, seem not to. Yet our system of justice is in part premised on the idea that ordinary people will be able to tell who is telling the truth.

Review of 'Love and Mercy'

A bio-pic of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who turns out to have been much more troubled than I  could have imagined from the music. A good film, with some good acting, and an interesting split-narrative structure (part during the 1960-70s heyday, part in the early 1990s).

Interesting counterpart with the story of Amy Winehouse. AW was left to the care of people who cared more about themselves, and how they could advance themselves through her career, than they ever did about her physical or mental health. It seems that a bit of dedicated competent professional help might have saved, and allowed her to graduate from youthful excess to grand old lady of Jazz.

Whereas Wilson had professional help in the shape of rogue shrink Dr Eugene Landy, who kept him sick and exploited him ruthlessly. If we are to believe the film then Wilson hit lucky in that he was rescued by car salesperson Melinda Leadbetter, who saw that something was wrong in the doctor-patient relationship. But it does highlight the problem for people who are talented, but not either commercially savvy or strong enough to cope with the pressures of a life in the limelight. How do you know who trust as doctor, counsellor, agent, lawyer, even accountant?

There is, of course, no mention in the film of the Beach Boys's politics, including their performance at a Republican fundraiser in 1984 (from which Brian was ejected). For that you'll have to read this.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Review of 'Amy'

Watched this last night, at the cinema, as part of a ‘première’ with live Q&A with director and producer. Glad I did, because some films need to be seen in a darkened room with a crowd and no other distractions.

This is a beautifully made documentary, without talking head interviews but with lots of found footage with audio interviews running over. It left me profoundly sad, of course, but also angry. I wasn't a huge AW fan, and didn't consume much of the celeb coverage while she was alive. But anyone can see what a huge talent she was, both as a singer and as a writer. So it’s hard to watch her entourage failing her. Other celebs have been protected from the worst impacts of media attention, but she wasn't. She was left to be exposed to it, because the sight of her cracking under the pressure somehow enhanced her market value. Others have survived drugs and bad relationships, but she wasn't given the time or space to regroup and recover, again because those around her wanted to keep her touring and performing. She was too young, inexperienced, and already damaged by early life to take control herself.

I note in passing that it was alcohol and bulimia that killed her rather than the shedloads of drugs that she took, but this is not to defend the drugs and the drug-taking; it all contributed to the dissolution of her personality. I also think that no-one watching this will learn anything. Young people won’t do any less booze and drugs, young women will still want to be thin, the business will still batten on to anyone with talent, and destroy them if they let it.

So sad to think that she wrote all those beautiful songs about someone as obviously shitty as her ex-husband.