Thursday, 3 November 2016

My Scientology Movie

Title: My Scientology Movie
Director: John Dower
Released: 2015
Plot: Documentary following Louis Theroux in his attempts to make a film about the Church of Scientology only to find his attempts being blocked at every turn. Now teaming up with former senior church official Mark Rathbun he attempts to create reconstructions of incidents within the church.

Review: Starting his career working as part of Michael Moore’s “TV Nation” team Louis Theroux would soon go on to forge a name for himself as he immersed himself in America’s sub-cultures via his “Weird Weekends” series which saw him hanging with seemingly everyone from pornstars and wrestlers through to survivalists. Theroux also in his native England produced a series of intimate portraits of celebrity figures such as the former TV Magician Paul Daniels and most memorably Jimmy Savile many having fallen out of the limelight. However it was after these films that Theroux decided to drop his humorous and mischievous antics from his documentaries and instead make more serious films and its this tact that we still find Theroux in for his big screen debut.

While it might seem a fairly straightforward topic to make a documentary about, especially with the wealth of footage out there relating to the church and their often less than orthodox practises. Instead Theroux makes the unusual choice of imitating “The Act of Killing” which featured Indonesian Genocidaires re-enacting their crimes and here large portions of the film are dedicated to the casting of actors to play parts such as the church’s leader David Miscavige aswell as possibly the most recognised church member Tom Cruise. Its actually quite shocking how much of the film is dedicated to these sections and it makes for a jarring experience to see Theroux breaking away from his established formula especially when there is never any proper explanation of why these scenes are being included.

Opening to Theroux explaining that he had originally intended to make a film exploring the beliefs and its various practises, he finds himself unsurprisingly denied all access by the church and in doing so instantly damming themselves from the opening onwards with such fierce secrecy surrounding their practises that no other organised religion so fiercely fights to protect. Even the highly controversial Westboro Baptist Church welcomed Louis into the church on two occastions for “The Most Hated Family in America” and its follow up “America’s Most Hated Family in Crisis” but alas this was not to be perhaps unsurprisingly with “The Church of Scientology” who much like Seaworld in “Blackfish” only condemn themselves from the start by not wishing to participate leaving us to form our opinions from the former members involved and the tactics used by the church to block the films production.

Mark Rathbun once more seems to be the go to guy for former Scientologists as here he once more provides the entry point into the world of Scientology as he chalks up another documentary appearance after previously being seen in the arguably more superior “Scientologists At War” and the thorough “Goung Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” the latter of which the Church threatened to block the film from being shown in the UK. As a former high level member of the Church Rathbun was perfectly placed to give some of the most indepth accounts of the church’s practises many of which he shares throughout the film, especially being hounded by the church’s “Squirrel Squad” whose methods revolve around filming and harassing their targets at all times, techniques which again they attempt to use here to block filming only to find themselves equally matched by Theroux who has seemingly zero qualms about facing off against any of the members he encounters filming them as they film him in celuloid stand off’s while giving the audience the kind of interactions we where hoping for especially those familiar with Theroux’s previous films.

Despite the seemingly fearless nature which Theroux has shown when it comes to tackling his various subjects and I was expecting to see more of the same here, but ultimately outside of the a few inevitable stand off’s with members of the church sent to harass the production we don’t get to see anything that we haven't seen in other documentaries on the subject, though Theroux might be the first to actually annoy these camera crews enough that they’d rather walk away than deal with him. Ultimately the church largely resort to threatening the production with legal threats which Theroux attempts to address in person, only to find himself blocked by the church’s security once more and making the viewer only wonder more what exactly the church is so fiercely scared of being exposed by the film while there is an air of paranoia from the start as actress Paz de La Huerta stumbles burbling about her acting career during an early conversation between Theroux and Rathbun in a wonderfully surreal moment, which sadly might also be the highlight of the film, especially as Theroux wonders if she had been sent by David Miscavige as a “honeytrap”.

One of the most frustrating aspects outside of the general lack of direction here comes with the sound which constantly seems to dip during the re-enactment sections leaving me to constantly fiddle around the volume controls as I was either struggling to hear what was being said or being blasted by the sound returning to normal.

Ultimately this is a film which enters with big ambitions only to remain small in scope as the reinactments and numerous casting sessions feel like nothing more than filler to cover for the lack of progress that Theroux made in cracking the church and while he might cite that the intention of the documentary was to try and provoke a reaction from the church we learn nothing new here that we haven't seen in other documentaries on the subject. True it might be amusing to see Theroux face off against various members, but this one is really for the die hard fans of his work than those seeking to know more about Scientology.

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