Monday, November 13, 2017

break on theroux to the other side

One thing I forgot to mention in the last book review was that Barefoot In The Head is full of allusions to the mystical writings and teachings of GI Gurdjieff and his acolyte and collaborator PD Ouspensky and various associated concepts (kundalini, for instance). None of it makes much sense, to be honest, but that's scarcely surprising since a) precious little of the rest of the book makes any sense anyway and b) the original teachings are a nonsensical mish-mash of stuff stolen from various religions and mixed with a bit of more up-to-date 20th-century self-actualisation bullshit.

One thing I did note on doing a bit of further reading was that Gurdjieff's concept of an enneagram (basically a bit of tosh involving a lot of bullshit numerology) put me in mind of the equally bullshit Scientology concept of an engram, a sub-conscious mental image of a traumatic event from a person's past which needs to be "cleared" before the person can achieve the same terrifying level of insight and mastery as, say, Tom Cruise. I don't think there's actually any etymological crossover between the words, and I have no idea if L. Ron Hubbard was influenced by Gurdjieff, but I wouldn't be surprised, because there are a lot of common themes of self-realisation through force of will and similar hogwash.

A couple of clips from the (still totally compelling and awesome, by the way) Cruise video were featured in Louis Theroux's 2015 documentary about Scientology which I (by chance) caught the other night.
I should say at this point that I'm not the biggest fan of Theroux's wide-eyed faux-naif approach to film-making, nor am I the biggest fan of the Nick Broomfield How I Failed To Make This Film  school of documentaries about thwarted documentary-making (and therefore largely about the documentary-maker rather than his purported subject), generally realised by attempting to get access to a figure or organisation who perfectly obviously was never going to agree to it in the first place.

That said, it turns out that Theroux's shtick is perfectly suited to what he ended up doing, which was wandering about trying to start conversations with the various packs of swivel-eyed numbskulls who were sent out to try and obstruct and disrupt his film, while, paradoxically, ending up providing it with most of its material. The bits where he hung out with Marty Rathbun and various jobbing LA actors trying to recreate scenes of alleged abuse by David Miscavige and others didn't really seem to have a point to them, other than to highlight the absurdity of the Scientology "tech" - basically a lot of shouting at inanimate objects. I mean, I myself shout at inanimate objects quite a lot, especially in the course of my occasional DIY activities, but I haven't tried to turn it into a religion.

A couple of quite interesting Theroux interviews (the first, absurdly, longer than the film itself) about the film are here and here. Note how Theroux is much sharper and less bumbly in real life than in the persona he adopts in the documentaries. Anyway, My Scientology Movie is a lot of fun, but ultimately just a series of episodes of amusing trolling of the religion, rather than a serious attempt to analyse it. If you want that you're probably better advised to watch Going Clear, released earlier the same year.

Going back to Gurdjieff, and sticking with the subject of films for the moment, the single fact about Gurdjieff that I knew in advance was his having possessed an absolutely tremendous moustache. Another absolutely tremendous moustache that's been in the news recently is Kenneth Branagh's monstrous face fungus in the role of Hercule Poirot in the remake of Agatha Christie's Murder On The Orient Express.

You'll note that Branagh's 'tache represents a considerable upgrade on the fairly neat and modest effort sported by Albert Finney in the 1974 film, a design emulated fairly closely by David Suchet in the long series of TV adaptations of the Poirot stories. The key consideration in remaking a whodunit, of course, is who dun it, and whether in remaking it you're going to mess with the original story in order to keep your viewers guessing. The answer here seems to be no, or not in any significant way, so if you remember the ending of the earlier film (and who doesn't?) then you're going to know how this ends, broadly speaking.