Saturday, April 18, 2015

On the Big Screen: THE WILD PARTY (1929)

Imagine, if you're a film buff, The Blue Angel if Marlene Dietrich was a student in Emil Jannings' class, and Jannings was more of a hunk than a hulk, and you get an idea of what The Wild Party might have been. It was, above all, the talking debut of Clara Bow, the superstar "It Girl" of silent cinema. Bow is one of those silent stars whose trouble with talkies became legend. There's nothing wrong with her voice this first time -- if anything, she sounds less trumpet-like here than she would a few years later in Call Her Savage -- but we can safely assume that she didn't sound the way fans expected Clara Bow to sound. Maybe they expected something higher or cuter, boopier or doopier. The ultimately damaging thing, perhaps, was that, like John Gilbert, there was nothing special about her voice, but that seems appropriate for the mostly brainless character, a college student, she plays in Dorothy Arzner's film.

Like most of her schoolmates, Clara's character seems to be in college because she can -- that is, she can afford it. The only girl who worries about expenses is the studious, mousy but pretty wallflower (Shirley O'Hara)who has to hit the books hard and often to stay in the running for the academic scholarship that alone keeps her in school. Clara is a special friend to this character and that's her redeeming quality, whether you see subtext in it or not by virtue of Arzner's sexuality. Our heroine seems to recognize that her friend really deserves a college education, not to mention a break or more, and ultimately Clara will sacrifice her own academic ambitions, such as they were, to keep this good girl in school.

The main event of The Wild Party -- the title event is a mere episode -- is Clara's war of wills with her new anthropology professor. The first act of the picture climaxes, after Clara recounts to her suitemates her tryst with a stranger on a train, with the revelation that the new teacher (Frederic March in his second credited screen role) is that same stranger. The mutual recognition makes classes uncomfortable for both people, though most of the discomfort is theoretical on March's part. He doesn't want her to think that he's showing her any favoritism, so he goes to the opposite extreme and singles her out for embarrassing criticism. He drives her from the classroom in tears after he accuses her of plagiarism in an admittedly hastily thrown-together essay. But circumstances keep throwing them together. Both, we realize, are restless spirits. While Clara just likes to go out in search of fun, especially when the authorities at school and in the dorms frown on it -- she and three friends head for a rough roadhouse after getting thrown out of a "stag" party for wearing identical skimpy showgirl costumes -- March likes to go out nights for walks on dark roads. That gets him into trouble when he rescues Clara from roadhouse mashers and later gets shot by one of them. The reluctant lovers seem to be in a race toward self-destruction that accelerates when Clara decides to take the fall when the class tattletale discovers letters that could get Helen, the wallflower, expelled for dating a man. The letter is unsigned, enabling Clara to say it's hers, even if the context -- Helen writes of the importance of that academic award -- makes Clara an unlikely author. The authorities buy her confession, nevertheless, but her departure has an unintended consequence. March resigns his professorship, eliminating the hierarchical complications that had compromised his relationship with Clara. Ironically, he promises her a future of intellectual adventure; they'll be doing fieldwork in Malaya for their honeymoon.

For those who aren't movie buffs, Clara Bow was the "It Girl" because she was said by the novelist Elinor Glyn to be one of the very few people in Hollywood to have "It," an otherwise indescribable magnetism. "It" seems to have been relative or chronologically specific, like Elinor Glyn's own fame, rather than a timeless quality. Bow is attractive but to me, at least, she's far from the most magnetic female of silent cinema, much less talkies. Her vapid character in Wild Party and the chaotic shrubbery she sports on her head in parts of the picture further diminish her vaunted magnetism, more of which is on display in her more assured (or more manic) turn in Call Her Savage. She's also sabotaged by the primitive nature of early talkies. While Arzner is credited with innovating a "fishpole" microphone to accommodate the restless Bow Wild Party isn't much less stodgy than the immobile pictures parodied in Singin' In The Rain. With Wild Party Arzner and Bow caught up with film technology but their frivolous film remains something that very soon would be very much a thing of the past. The Thirties required a different kind of wild that Bow eventually proved herself capable of but unwilling to sustain. By the end of the Pre-Code era she had retired from cinema to become a relic of the Roaring Twenties. In that sense, despite the uncomfortable novelty of sound Wild Party is a representative work, though the silent, stylized Bow is probably the best one to see.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

On the Big Screen: FOLLOW THRU (1930)

Movies have always been capable of making art of its absences. Silent film is recognized now as a distinct style rather than the mere absence of speech. At its best, black and white cinematography was a positive artistic choice rather than the mere lack of color. Shouldn't this also be true of movies made in "two-strip" or "two-color" Technicolor, before the process was perfected and could capture the color blue? Watching these films -- either special scenes in otherwise monochrome pictures (e.g. the silent versions of Ben-Hur and The King of Kings) or else full-length features (e.g. Douglas Fairbanks' The Black Pirate) is like watching cartoons with an eccentric if not obsolete aesthetic sense. Hollywood was well aware of the limitations of the process and its pictures were art-directed accordingly until the world was turned red, green and brown. History has judged harshly, however, perhaps because the heyday of two-color was also the infancy of sound film, not to mention the epoch of the part-talkie, for which few artistic excuses can be made. Few of these early Technicolor films survive intact. Technicolor sequences or entire films survive only in black and white; some don't survive at all. Follow Thru is an exception: a full-length 1930 Technicolor musical that survives intact, though it was considered a lost film, like so many others, for a long time. Musical comedy seems like the ideal material for the two-color process, which highlights the essential, deliberate unreality of all the proceedings. Watching Follow Thru in 1930 may have been a little like watching an all-CGI picture today; you can tell it's not "real," but you weren't exactly looking for "real," were you? That Follow Thru is fantasy we can take for granted. That it's actually quite funny is what puts it over for posterity.

Follow Thru is about golf, sort of. At least that ensures a lot of green in the picture. The plot is typical musical comedy. Two female golf champions -- Nancy Carroll's the good girl, Thelma Todd the cheating villain -- are rivals for the affection of Jerry, a male golf pro (Charles "Buddy"Rogers). Jerry has been hired as a personal instructor for Jack Martin (Jack Haley), a girl-shy department-store heir. Jack goes into eyebrow-twitching seizures at the sight of pretty girls. Coincidentally, he once proposed drunkenly and gave a ring to Angie Howard (Zelma O'Neal), who happens to be the BFF of Nora, the good-girl golfer. Fearing girls, Jack wants to leave the country club where Nora and her rival are competing, but practically everyone contrives to make him stay so Jerry will. Acting as a facilitator, as far as his ability allows, is bra manufacturer "Effie" Effingham (Eugene Pallette), who's willing to help anyone out it gives him a better chance of having his bras sold in Jack's stores.  Because the characters usually act from ulterior (ableit benign) motives, many misunderstandings result from eavesdropping or too-candid conversations, but everything's resolved in time for Jerry to coach Nora -- the film makes clear that her talent only requires moral support -- for her ultimate showdown with her nemesis.

All of the above is scaffolding on which Follow Thru hangs its showpieces. The show was a smash hit on Broadway, and at least one of its DeSylva, Brown & Henderson songs, "Button Up Your Overcoat" ("Take good care of yourself/You belong to me") has entered the "Great American Songbook." The odd thing is that all the best songs go to the comics, while the romantic leads are stuck with several reprises of the uninspiring "We'll Make a Peach of a Pair." Even the third-rate juvenile couple (Margaret Lee and Don Tompkins) get a funny number, "Then I'll Have Time For You." The comedy numbers bring this Roaring Twenties relic close to the spirit of Pre-Code, as when Tompkins sings, "Once I've ruined the figgers/Of a dozen gold diggers/Then I'll have time for you." Probably the ultimate expression of this is Zelma O'Neal's big number, "I Wanna Be Bad," which is also the film's cinematic highlight. As directed by Lloyd Corrigan and Laurence Schwab, the number crosses what we could call the Berkeley Boundary. Angie Howard is supposed to be singing an impromptu song at a costume party with a live jazz band, but the directors jazz things up with double exposures and other special effects to make the scene a more purely cinematic experience. Just as golf as a subject suits two-color Technicolor's peculiar palette, so the process's favoring of red encouraged filmmaker to imagine vivacious visions of Hell, even if Zelma can't call the place by name. At this point you may as well see this clip of Technicolor Temptation Triumphant. Yellow42758 posted it to YouTube.


It falls short of the Berkeleyan standard mainly because the camera itself doesn't cross the Berkeley Boundary to roam among the ranks of falling angels. The song is virtually a Pre-Code anthem, though I'd argue that the more authentic Pre-Code sentiment is "I've Gotta Be Bad!" Still, for 1930 it's a great movie moment that I'm grateful to have seen on the big screen during the Madison Theater's one-day Jazz Age festival.

Overall, Follow Thru succeeds as much as a comedy as it does as a musical. O'Neal and Haley are holdovers from the original Broadway cast and really know how to put over the comedy songs. In their hands "Button Up Your Overcoat" is more reciprocal bullying than love song. Once the future Tin Woodsman makes clear that he's got more going on than the thing with the eyebrows he really grows on you. His non-musical scenes with Pallette are also good, especially a bit that must be one of the first scenes in which men invade a women's locker room. The idea is that Jack must get in there to recover the ring he gave to Angie way back when while she's showering, so that he isn't disinherited for losing a family heirloom. This is a country-club locker room so cocktails are served by a black woman in a nurse's uniform. Pallette's idea is that the boys play plumbers, and in their fake moustaches I'll be damned if they aren't spitting images of Mario and Luigi, except for the derby Pallette sports. There's good farcical slapstick here, and to top it off the plumbers escape by mugging two women, stuffing them in lockers and stealing their clothes. After that the conclusive golf match can't help but be anticlimactic. The main romantic plot often seems like an afterthought, so overshadowed are the stars by the comedians, but Carroll and Rogers are pleasant enough not to be as unwelcome as, say, the musical leads in a Marx Bros. picture. They certainly do nothing to suppress the spirit of fun that prevails here. There's pathos, too, though you have to read that into a picture that was popular, according to reports, despite being obsolete in many ways the moment it appeared. There's a temptation to treat anything that survives from this brief, doomed moment as a treasure, even though much of what does survive is as bad, if not worse with age now, as it was thought to be then. Fortunately, with Follow Thru you don't have to resist that temptation too much -- and that's just how the film would want it

Sunday, April 12, 2015

On the Big Screen: THE CRUISE OF THE JASPER B (1926)

In the mid-1920s Cecil B DeMille became a sort of movie mogul as the mastermind behind the Producers Distribution Corporation, which later merged with the more established Pathe company. DeMille's biggest hit as an independent was his own Jesus picture The King of Kings but his company released pictures from many hands, in all genres. DeMille as a comedy producer sounds like an unlikely proposition but The Cruise of the Jasper B. allowed him to tap, at whatever remove from the actual creators, into his inner Mack Sennett. Director James W. Horne filmed an adaptation by three writers (including future director Tay Garnett) of a novel by humorist Don Marquis. Best known now for his whimsical "archy & mehitabel" pieces, allegedly written by a cockroach jumping on his typewriter keyboard, Marquis wrote Jasper B in 1916 as a kind of mock epic, and Horne's film is even more mockingly epic. It mocks the conventions of melodrama and adventure by taking them way, way over the top, into the realm of the absurd.

Swaggering in his pirate shorts, star Rod LaRocque (who'd go on to play perhaps the most smart-assed version ever of The Shadow in the movie International Crime) looks like a parody of Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate, which came out nine months before Jasper B. A prologue establishes the storied history of the Cleggett dynasty as the original Jeremaiah Cleggett wins a wife by rescuing her from scurvy ravishers. Since then, the heir to the line comes of age and into his fortune when he takes the old pirate vessel Jasper B onto the open sea to be married on it. By the eighth generation, however, the Cleggett line has grown decadent and bankrupt. The present Jerry Cleggett, whose exact likeness to his distant ancestor raises suspicions of inbreeding, will sleep through the auctioning off of his estate if not for the dedication of his manservant Wiggins (Jack Ackroyd). The beleaguered man must dress in front of prospective buyers, including plenty of women. He insists that they turn their backs, but the ladies whip out their trusty mirrors in the meantime, supposedly to adjust their lipstick. Rarely since the 1920s has the Hollywood male been so subject to the female gaze, but LaRocque is a good sport and unashamed. His performance requires comic timing worthy of the great clowns, especially early on as his bath goods and wardrobe are being snatched from him every time he turns his back. It's starting out as the worst day of Jerry's life, but his salvaging of his ancestor's original pirate costume augurs a change in fortunes.

And just across the way, the ink hasn't dried yet on a revised last will that bestows a fortune on the dying man's niece Agatha Fairhaven (Mildred "First Mrs. Charlie Chaplin" Harris) while virtually disinheriting the hateful Reginald Maltravers (Snitz Edwards). A maid taunts Reginald by waving the new will at him until the wind blows it out of her hand, after the runty villain jumps for it in vain, the will blows through a bathroom window to plaster itself, ink side down, on the bathing Agatha's naked back. Now it's not enough for Reginald to rip the paper text to shreds. To win his fortune, he must scrub the fatal backwards lines off Agatha's body. And so the chase begins, the villain pursuing with a loofah, until Agatha seeks shelter with Jerry Cleggett. It's love virtually at first sight under fire, and the dramatic title cards give an idea of the sensibility at play here:

Agatha: "Don't let him wash my back!"
Jerry: "NEVER!"

Jerry subdues the despicable Reginald and orders Wiggins to "soak" him. The loyal manservant misunderstands this as a command to "croak" the offender, but fortunately lacks the killer instinct. Instead, Maltravers plays dead in hope of escape and gets stuffed into a coffin-like crate which the men then dump out a window. But like Dracula aboard the Demeter the un-dead villain rides the roof of the Cleggett car, somehow unconfiscated, to where the old Jasper B is moored so Jerry can come into his own before the boat is turned into a floating chop house. They barely make it to the boat as Wiggins abandons the driver's seat to investigate the roof and the brake slips. A crash landing luckily leaves everyone unscathed, and Wiggins rejoices that they're at least rid of the accursed box until the thing slides down the hill to cut his legs out from under him.

Meanwhile, gangsters are robbing a mail truck to steal a priceless tapestry stored a in a crate that farcically resembles Reginald Maltravers' quasi-coffin. You can see where this is headed, but you probably don't know how far it's going. You can probably guess that Maltravers will end up leading the gangsters in a raid on the Jasper B. But while this storm gathers the wheels of government keep turning. The driver of the mail truck appeals to the local constable for assistance. "It's a federal matter," that official answers before taking him to the police. "It's a federal matter," the police agree before taking it up with the militia. "It's a federal matter!" an officer affirms before consulting the Navy. An admiral reviews the information up to this point and is about to deliver an opinion when everyone in the frame draws close to hear exactly what they, and by now you, expect. This gradual escalation features some of the best use of title cards I've ever seen in a silent film, and this extra beat of anticipation as everyone cocks their ears is a stroke of genius. And when the admiral (or his card) screams silently "IT'S A FEDERAL MATTER!" it's the cue for the film, already screwy, to go howling mad.

For as a federal matter the theft of the tapestry brings the full military power of the United States to bear against the Jasper B. In a sequence that may have inspired scenes from Duck Soup, infantry, air and naval power and even those newfangled tanks are mobilized against the pirate ship and its crew of three. A montage of stock footage and special effects portrays an apocalyptic assault on the plucky boat. Shelled by naval guns and land artillery, carpet bombed from the air, the ship somehow remains intact as Jerry battles Maltravers and the gangsters, though the villain himself is blown out of his clothes by one lucky shot even as our hero chastises him. Now that's a climax!

I wasn't surprised to learn that James W. Horne's subsequent career was split between slapstick and serials. Immediately after Jasper B. Buster Keaton recruited him to do the directing chores for College. He later directed Laurel & Hardy in Way Out West and some other films before ending his career in the Columbia serial department. You can see the knack for thrills and the comedy timing in Jasper B., which for all I know (which is little) of the man's work is his masterpiece. It definitely proves again that silent comedy had more going for it than the canonical clowns, yet it was a film I hadn't heard of before it was announced as part of this weekend's Jazz Age film program at the Madison Theater. The definitive work of genre criticism, Walter Kerr's The Silent Clowns, had nothing to say about it. That just goes to show how deep the talent pool was in those days, and how much possibly this good remains to be discovered once we look past the big names of comedy.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Pre-Code Parade on the Big Screen

I'm just back from the Madison Theater here in Albany, where today the Pine Hills Film Colony hosted a one-day film festival called Lost Paradise: Four Films from the Jazz Age. Chronologically speaking the feature program covered the late Twenties up to 1930, including two silent pictures, one early talkie and one early musical. These were interspersed with Charley Chase short subjects, though they inexplicably were from his end-of-the-line Columbia period instead of his golden days with Hal Roach. The best I can say about them is that they were better than Buster Keaton's work for the home of the Three Stooges. The features deserve coverage in more detail, and this post serves as a preview of coming attractions. In the coming days I'll be posting reviews of the four features, which in chronological order are: James W. Horne's Cruise of the Jasper B. (1926), Harry Beaumont's Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Dorothy Arzner's The Wild Party (1929) and the Lloyd Corrigan-Laurence Schwab collaboration Follow Thru (1930). For now, here are some general comments about the event:

The program extended over 9.5 hours, including a dinner break of not quite two hours between the third and fourth features and about a half-hour apiece separating the earlier segments. Film Colony director Michael V. Butler acted as MC, delivering a general introduction to moviegoing during the 1920s, emphasizing the multimedia experience of film, live music and occasional olfactory effects, as well as individual intros for the features. Source materials varied extremely, Follow Thru being a digital burn of the Museum of Modern Art's copy of the all-Technicolor musical while Jasper B. was an Alpha Video disc with predictable limitations. Technical problems were perhaps too evocative of the early days of sound as the theater staff struggled to call up the soundtrack for Follow Thru, while the aspect ration on Wild Party was juggled a little to make Clara Bow appear less chubby than she initially appeared. These can be written off as learning experiences for the event organizers, who should be forgiven much for putting this program together. Once everything was in sync Follow Thru was a spectacular experience, while the humble-seeming Jasper B. was a hilarious surprise from producer Cecil B. DeMille in Mack Sennett mode. The Wild Party was the nearest thing to a dud on the program, while Our Dancing Daughters is elevated above its soapy subject matter by powerhouse performances from Joan Crawford and Anita Page. But I'll have more to say about all of them in short order. For tonight congratulations are in order for the Pine Hills Film Colony along with encouragement for their next program tentatively scheduled for the fall. As for the Madison, despite switching to a primarily second-run format after being a repertory house for much of last year, the historic neighborhood theater still runs classic oldies or cult films every week, including Metropolis this week. Albany's a lucky town to have this theater as well as a thriving arthouse like the Spectrum. I hadn't been to the Madison for several months, more for personal reasons than anything else, but today was a perfect day to come back.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Manoel de Oliveira (1908-2015)

The title of world's oldest person has changed hands twice this month but amid the coverage of those milestones I missed the passing of the world's oldest film director until I saw a small item on the Milestones page of the newest Time magazine today. To be exact, Oliveira (who died on April 2) had been the world's oldest active director, having released a short subject last November. If his name didn't pop up on Google News despite his record that was probably because he has no truly canonical classic in his filmography. He started out as a documentarian and really came into his own relatively late, in his sixties during the 1970s. As he pushed on, his work gained curiosity value, and curiosity was often rewarded by the quality or at least the ambition on Oliveira's work. I haven't seen very many of his films but was impressed by I'm Going Home (2001) and the death-enamored Strange Case of Angelica (2010), though less so by Eccentricities of a Blond-Haired Girl (2009). Even then, I saw proof of a rigorous pictorial intellect, and Oliveira understandably worked in continuity with older literary and cultural traditions, so that his later films have always looked interesting, at least, on their own terms as well as for their testimony to their director's endurance. It's hard to know who to put on Oliveira's throne since the really old timers may put several years between projects. How much time must pass since the most recent feature before you can say a director's no longer active? For that matter, should we distinguish between fiction film makers and documentarians? Claude Lanzmann, the director of Shoah, is still turning interviews filmed decades ago into feature-length films, most recently in 2013; he turns 90 this fall. Restricting ourselves to fiction film, the older of the Taviani brothers will be 86 this year and they have a new film out. Just behind Taviani in age are the always provocative Jean-Luc Godard and the sometimes indiscriminate Clint Eastwood, both of whom released acclaimed features last year. But who can say, other than their doctors, if older folks like Agnes Varda or Andrzej Wajda are really done yet? Oliveira gave them all something to shoot for, both by retaining his capability for so long and by actually having things to say until the end.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

James Best (1926-2015)

 
Twilight Zone screencap from the Shadow & Substance blog (thenightgallery.wordpress.com
The other day I was watching Apache Drums (1951), a Hugo Fregonese western that was producer Val Lewton's last film. Early on a young man volunteers on what will prove a suicide mission. As soon as the actor spoke I recognized him as James Best, then nearly as young as I've ever seen him in movies. Best was going on 25 at the time and had only been making movies for about a year, including a small role in Winchester '73. Over the past couple of years I've watched a lot of movie and TV westerns from the genre's classic era. During that time I learned to appreciate Best as a welcome name in the credits. His versatile work as a character actor redeemed a performer I once despised by association with a show I despised and for which he'll regrettably be best remembered. On The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-85) his Rosco P. Coltrane was a one-note clown who struck me as not just a poor man's Buford T. Justice (and that's starting poor) but an even poorer man's Sheriff Lobo, since Claude Akins, one of Best's classic-era peers, was also toiling thanklessly on redneck TV at the time. Best had his chance at bigger things. He came closest to genuine movie stardom in 1959 when he was top billed in Samuel Fuller's Verboten! and Ray Kellogg's The Killer Shrews. Of course the latter film is better remembered, thanks partly to Mystery Science Theater 3000. It's so well remembered that Best recreated his role in perhaps the most belated movie sequel ever, released in 2012. That was his penultimate film according to IMDB, but he was scheduled to appear in a new film before pneumonia claimed him this spring. Nearly everything he made had at least him going for it. To honor his memory, watch anything but the Dukes.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Too Much TV: GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF (2015)

If the fiction film Timbuktu tempts you to punch a Muslim until you recall that a Muslim made it, Alex Gibney's HBO documentary expose of the Church of Scientology leaves you with fewer reservations about your desire to punch a Scientologist. You'll most likely want to punch a specific Scientologist: David Miscavige, the successor to founding father L. Ron Hubbard and the Stalin, it would seem, to Hubbard's Lenin. As portrayed here, Miscavige is a sinister twerp with none of Hubbard's lunatic charisma but plenty of dead-eyed will to power. Hubbard himself looks like a classic American mountebank, though he looks and sounds even more like that creepy "Friendly Angel" of that Star Trek episode. Like a figure possibly out of one of his own pulp fictions, Hubbard's face looks like a map of his character or lack of it. Gibney tells the old story, which Scientologists have struggled to discredit, of Hubbard telling folks that founding a religion was the way to make a fortune, but concludes that the old man came to believe his own buncombe, perhaps as part of a decline into paranoia. Nothing seems inspired or spiritual about Miscavige, but spirituality isn't what makes Scientology a religion. Actually, a campaign of harassment against the IRS made it a religion for the purposes of tax-exemption, but Going Clear suggests that Scientology is a more orthopractic than orthodox faith, defined less by Hubbard's mad mythology than by the constant practice of auditing for personal regulation and discipline.

The most alarming thing about the show was the resemblance it exposed between Scientology, and by extension many of the more notorious cults, and the totalitarian political movements that were its contemporaries. This became most clear when Miscavige was shown waging a kind of Cultural Revolution against his peers in the "Sea Org," the Scientology elite. He subjected them to a regime of constant auditing and humbling menial labor, much as those Chinese who ran afoul of Chairman Mao or his Red Guards were subject to constant struggle sessions, compulsory self-criticisms, menial labor -- and much worse, of course. Like the Marxist Leninists, Hubbard saw his revelation as a key to salvation, but salvation in each case required submission to unceasing self-surveillance and constant accountability to guides and guardians. Scientology promised empowerment, hence its continuing appeal, but as is often the case with religion or ideology empowerment came from submission, often to an abject extent, to an unworthy master. Yet the sympathy you might feel for the victims may be tempered by recalling that they were all of the elite that bilked the real rubes out of millions, if not by now billions of dollars. As in 1984 a special terror was reserved for those in the Party, so to speak, while the proles mostly went about their stupid lives. How much those suffered who merely bought copies of Dianetics without throwing thousands away on advanced study is hard to say. The show itself quotes Scientology advising such small-timers not to worry about believing all the mythology as long as practice improves their lives. For many if not most, Scientology is probably no more than another form of self-help, perhaps with special appeal for ambitious entertainers who look to John Travolta, Tom Cruise and others as models of success, while viewers of Going Clear may find those two more contemptible than ever. That this racket could also inspire terror in virtually political fashion makes the story of Scientology farcically tragic, but if my own reaction is typical you'll neither laugh nor cry but rage at what you learn. You'll want to see Miscavige in the stocks, or ridden out of some town, any town, on a rail, preferably in tar and feathers. Going Clear is one of the most infuriating movies I've seen in some time, but for once I'd like to compliment the director for getting me that way.