Ok, so here we go again. After the predictable outpouring of adoration for Louis Theroux in the last blog got out of hand, here is the overspill part 2 for those who are fanatic enough to stick with anything Louis Theroux related no matter what. After giving a run down of the first two of my favourite Louis Theroux documentaries I’ll now take you through my final two and why I love them so much.
Wow! What a classic. This episode of Weird Weekends is required watching for any Louis Theroux fan. In this film Louis throws himself into the world of gangsta rap in a level of immersion that is even impressive coming from the king of getting involved with a story. This is such a well rounded watch as it all builds up to one of Louis most famous moment, that rap! (Yes, of course I’ll talk about this more later. What sort of Louis Theroux maniac do you think I am?)
I included this episode in my list of favourites as its the one production that most embodies his most quirky and innocent era. His other more serious work is fantastic and nothing can take away from that. But it’s these more playful documentaries that made him the figure he is now. Throughout numerous Weird Weekends episodes he assimilates with the subjects with such apparent ease. This is done in a way that often seems so childish and silly, however, it’s what really allows Louis to get the subjects to open up and reveal to the camera the true nature of their community.
When it comes to the documentary itself we see an interesting tour of the gangsta rap scene. The doc explores the community and positivity it offers many whilst looking at the darker under belly of drugs and violence. Yes, it’s a fascinating watch and the people Louis chats to have interesting stories and off the wall personalities that makes you want to hear more from them. But for me this isn’t breaking any ground when it comes to content, it’s groundbreaking in the sense that it shows just what a documentary presenter can be like. It smashes the expectation usually connected with someone exploring a serious subject matter and introduces us to the world of Louis Theroux that we’ll all grow to love as he takes us along on his journalistic journey.
I don’t think there is much more I need to say about this documentary than it is absolute textbook Louis Theroux. To me it demonstrates his sense of humour combining with his alertness for great conversation and insight. This sense of humour is no more apparent than what in my head I believe to be his ‘world famous rap’. I must ask at this point, are you really a Louis Theroux fan if you don’t know it word for word? I’ll put the clip above and we can all just sit back and revel in what is unarguably a great moment in TV and film history.
Edge of Life
To round off my favourite Louis Theroux documentaries is Edge of Life. This is a tricky one to write about, but its for that very reason that I felt it needed to be included. This is the only Theroux documentary that made me cry. For a documentarian who is famed for his bizarreness, I think that’s a strong achievement. The subject matter it explores are patients who are on the brink of death that are going through bouts of treatment in an attempt to save their lives even though the doctors believe it to be a pointless act. Louis spends time in the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre speaking to the medical practitioners and patients to gather the views and stories from both perspectives as well as capturing footage of moments in these patients lives which are intensely emotional and hard to deal with for all involved.
What intrigues me so much about this documentary is that it seems such a departure from Louis Theroux’s previous work. He has involved himself with serious subject matters all through his career however the intensity and stark reality of this film seemed initially like something that didn’t go hand in hand with the Louis Theroux style. So, on watching it it really made me see a side to Louis Theroux that I don’t think I ever thought existed.
I always knew he was genuine with the people he interviewed and his curiosity was real, however, I was never sure how this would translate to a truly deep issue. Would the quirks of Louis Theroux be too much for such a sensitive subject matter? This documentary made it clear to me that there was much more to his documentary making than I’d imagined.
The view I’ve formed on documentaries in general is that the hard hitting questions need to be asked. However, when it comes to sensitive issues where people are genuinely vulnerable, then the film needs to speak for itself. A presenter prodding the action either draws away from what the audience needs to see or becomes distasteful and an attention grab from the journalist. What we see throughout Edge of Life is an all round beautiful piece of production.
Hats off to the wider Theroux team, because the tone is struck just right. Louis is slightly different, but that’s because he has to be. His long awkward pauses turn into compassionate moments of understanding, his childlike wonder when it comes to questioning becomes a connector between him and the patient and gives them an opportunity to share emotions that they may have previously felt unable to get across.
What we are left with is a series of touching moments where we as a viewer are allowed to be involved with the emotion and pain of the patients as we see them engage with a human who is gently giving them the opportunity to express emotions that he feels the viewers need to see. After watching such interactions play out it made me realise that Louis Theroux is so much more than a cult figure, he is an amazing filmmaker with a genuine compassion for people.
I know I’ve talked a lot about Louis Theroux himself and I feel that that’s slightly unfair to the content of this documentary. However, I think following him as an individual provides a good way of guiding us through the beauty of this documentary. Don’t get me wrong, this documentary is intensely emotional and heart wrenchingly sad at times, but it is beautiful. An issue that is so hard to deal with, whether it be on film or in everyday life, it would have been carelessly easy to make this a statistics film that aims to shock and make a point of how many people are going through what you see on screen and to what lengths people go to attempt life extending procedures.
This film isn’t that. It’s humanising. That’s what makes it so heartbreaking to watch, but that’s what makes it so real and pure. As filmmakers, when we set out to make films I believe we have to be looking to elicit emotion for positive reasons. Emotion is why people watch films, because this is what makes them connect with it. Yet, so often emotion is exploited for the gain of the filmmaker or whoever is behind the production. What this film does is not seek to inflate the ego of the presenter, overhype the issue or create a mass surge of demand for a follow up, it simply seeks to translate the emotion the filmmakers are experiencing to the viewer.
In this instance there are various drives to do so, but what it mainly comes down to is the desire to highlight the emotion and mindset of people at the end of their lives. How this affects them, their loved ones and the doctors working with them. By doing this we receive both uplifting and saddening feeling, but we get feelings. The filmmakers here had pure intentions and they delivered a film which was quite truly emotionally pure. Although not every production is at this extreme of the emotional spectrum, what this piece of Louis Theroux work really taught me was that no matter what film or video we make, we have a choice of how we portray a subject. For me that means that every video we produce, we look to evoke positive emotions within the viewer; even if that means breaking their hearts sometimes.
As a little aside, I had to mentioned Louis Theroux the interviewer. In the run up to the release of most of his documentary series he gets involved in a variety of press appearances. This means him being on the receiving end of the interviews for a change. Obviously because I’m obsessed with the man, I’m all over all of these interviews. It turns out he’s not just great at asking questions, he’s also pretty damn witty and interesting when it comes to answering the questions.
No more so than when he appears on the podcast of his lifelong friend Adam Buxton. Don’t worry, I’m not going to five into a review of these podcasts (although I’m ridiculously tempted), I merely thought they deserved special mention. So if you get the chance and are craving some more Louis Theroux content after reading these two blogs, then dive into thee below podcasts. I’m telling you, there are some absolutely golden moments.
So, after all this talk about Louis Theroux, what inspiration have I gained from him? Well firstly, he got me into documentaries. Before that I viewed documentaries as something boring you were forced to watch in school. Following watching my first Louis Theroux doc, I was intrigued by the possibilities of documentaries. The idea of exploring different worlds through film felt only possible through fictional films. These documentaries showed me just how real world emotions can be translated through video and just how broad the horizon was for filmmaking.
Secondly, just how much is possible through talking and interacting. To the passing eye his work looks like it has a comedy edge with tinges of satire. But as you dig deeper you reveal that he’s doing something special. He’s developing a style that allows him access to the thoughts of people that he believes need sharing. From this I realised the importance of how messages are communicated. Whether it be the tone of voice of a documentary or the wording of a graphic in a promo video, if you are really committed to eliciting positive emotions, you’ve got to put thought into just what you’re saying.
Finally, it’s ok to be weird. Normal is boring and it’s only when you let in the weird that you gain access to the real interesting and joyous parts of people’s lives, including your own. So Louis, thank you for getting me into film and thank you for showing me that there are no limits to the way I can explore it.