Holy Hell reveals a fascinating megalomaniac

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      A documentary by Will Allen. Rating unavailable

      It took Will Allen 22 years to break away from a cult started in West Hollywood by a charismatic charlatan who called himself Michel, and later Andreas (real name: Jaime Gomez). Allen and more than 150 other suckers, er, devotees were slow to realize that the Teacher—preaching Zen-like, antisexual self-abnegation but big on mascara, Speedos, and plastic surgery—was running a major scam.

      Allen’s real advantage was that, as official documenter of what was modestly called the Buddhafield, he wielded increasingly sophisticated cameras. Even with admitted self-censorship, this intimate and often fascinating footage reveals a megalomaniac who genuinely inspired his early disciples—almost all remarkably white and well-toned—and also drove them to participate in complex, if kitschy, theatre and ballet pieces only they would see. The results are also a time-capsule record of changing video technology.

      Unfortunately, Allen’s still not an introspective enough narrator, or interlocutor of on-camera witnesses, to shape this trove as profoundly as he could. He takes the conventional TV approach, holding back allegations of dire sexual abuse (quelle surprise) as long as possible, thereby tainting what came before. This is an inversion of the real-estate show “reveal”, with the camera pulling back, in the After section, to show a broken-down haunted house that was actually there all along.

      A final confrontation with the ex-guru is disappointing, but a few talking heads cut through the bullshit. According to Allen’s more ornery sister, Michel was nothing more than “an out-of-work actor who stumbled into the role of a lifetime”.