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Soundtrack review: Going clear (Will Bates – 2015)

Documentary Film scores

Soundtrack review: Going clear (Will Bates – 2015)


Scientology is a subject many are familiar with. Most of the people who know about it and aren’t part of this religion have a very low opinion of it, and rightfully so. This cult which has recruited, among others, famous actors such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta promotes strange and harmful practices and there’ve been many deaths which could have been prevented. “Going clear: Scientology and the prison of belief” is an HBO documentary directed by an Academy Award winner and based on a book by a Pulitzer Prize winner. It profiles eight former members who shed some light on the abuses and betrayals of church officials. The score was written by Will Bates.

Usually documentary scores rarely want to take the focus of what’s happening in screen. The subject here though is religious exaggerations so the composer might try something different. “Going clear” starts with doubts and hidden meanings. A cue like “What is man” plays very shady and you could interpret it in many ways. The music is intentionally ambiguous and even the piano and the strings seem distorted in a way.

The music is intriguing. It might take a couple of listens to warm up to, but the cue “Going clear” grows on me. It dances to a Twin Peaks like rhythm and the instrumentation and sound effects are very interesting. Will Bates experimented here and the result is enjoyable. Again the instruments sound as if heard through the musical equivalent of funny mirrors. I get the feeling of a weird carnival where nothing is what it seems. This score is clearly not for everyone and it will polarize.

I realize that the composer decided to focus on the strange / occult / misleading nature of Scientology. I don’t hear any drama or accusations in the music, at least not in the first half of the score. It’s strange because the title of the documentary is “Going clear” and the music goes in the opposite direction. Maybe it will change later. I don’t understand cues like “Dianetics” and “The emeter”. The names and the music make me think of measuring devices for sounds or electricity.

“The death of LRH” changes the tone with a strange echo of someone whistling and it suggests the parody of a science fiction western. At least that’s what I hear. But the melodic piano element is welcomed after the weirdness from before. Other breaks form the normal flow of the score are the symphonic adaptations. They are still done on that almost mocking and exaggerated tone.

“Going clear” wasn’t for me, at least not for the mood I was in when I heard it. I admit the musical experiment makes for an interesting listen but I couldn’t connect with the score. I just couldn’t understand all the time Will Bates’ musical ideas and fusions. They did a great job of creating an uncomfortable atmosphere but that’s about it. What I will say is that you’ve rarely heard a score like this one. Give it a listen, it will expand your musical scope.

Cue rating: 67 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 3 / 55

Album excellence: 5%


Going clear



Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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