Top 10 Must-See Theroux Documentaries
Firstly, if anyone is unfamiliar with Louis Theroux, I suggest you YouTube search some of these documentaries now and watch them. Right now. Secondly, this list is purely subjective, but Iâve tried to rank them in terms of how interesting I found them, how little about the subject I knew before I watched them, and also entertainment and sensationalism value. Louis Theroux is an award-winning, British-American TV journalist, renowned for his âGonzoâ style of journalism – (a subjective style which is told in the first person, with Louis as the âmain characterâ). He became well known in the early 90âs through various newspaper and magazine articles and eventually, in 1998, he landed his first TV show, âLouis Therouxâs Weird Weekendsâ. In these shows he went and spent time with various, (mostly) American, lesser-known subcultures and set out to âdiscover the genuinely odd in the most ordinary settingâ. He later went on to film 2 more seasons, including âWhen Louis metâŚâ – in which he spends time with some eccentric figures from Britain, as well as filming various specials all the way up to the present year. Here are my top 10 Louis Theroux documentaries with short clips from each.
Survivalism is a movement in which groups of people are actively preparing for a future crisis â these can include changes in the government, pandemics, natural disasters and wars. Louis meets various people preparing for this major âshiftâ in different ways, including an ex-marine who has founded âAlmost Heavenâ, a small group of conspiracy theorists that claim the New World Order will be in effect soon, and are planning to oppose them. He meets various people who have moved themselves and their families out of traditional suburban life and gone to live miles away from civilization in an effort to protect themselves. He follows these people as they patrol their perimeters at night on the lookout for government troops, and also as they buy supplies in a survivalist store called âSafetrekâ. The man at the very beginning of this clip is a survivalist called Mike, who lives alone in an underground log cabin he built himself. Also in this clip he goes on to meet a more extreme group called the Aryan Nations â a white nationalist neo-Nazi organization.
This had to be on the list purely because of how incredibly strange the people featured in it are. Among relatively tame alien hunters, such as those who travel to Area 51, in Nevada, he meets the community who run the âLittle Ale-Innâ in Rachel, the small town near to Area 51. Seemingly unperturbed by any amount of strangeness in this documentary, Louis meets a man called âThor Templarâ â the self-proclaimed âLord Commander of the Earth Protectorateâ, who claims to have killed more than 20 aliens with gadgets he seems to have built from household materials. The whole thing is too bizarre. Even more so, he goes in search of a âReverend Robert Shawâ, who claims to be able to channel extra terrestrials and Louis is lucky enough to speak to an alien called âKortonâ from the system âKoldasâ, a Saturn-like planet whose inhabitants once occupied our system but had to move because of interstellar warfareâŚ Their conversation is in the clip.
Very much a companion piece to Martin Bashirâs âLiving with Michael Jacksonâ documentary shown in February earlier that year, âLouis, Martin and Michaelâ follows Louisâ efforts to arrange an interview and produce a documentary about Michael Jackson. His efforts to liaise through Michaelâs friend, Uri Geller, eventually prove futile as Uri denies Louis access to Michael, yet grants Martin Bashir permission instead. The events run alongside Martin Bashirâs documentary, as Louis follows Michael to Las Vegas and meets his âpersonal magicianâ, called Majestik Magnificent – who has lived with the Jacksons for nearly 20 years. Louis attempts to get closer to Michael through his family members, and eventually has to pay $5000 to interview Michaelâs dad, Joe, thinking it will improve his chances meeting Michael. Ultimately, however, the interview gets boycotted. In his typical style, Louis doesnât âsugar the pillâ so to speak, and asks Joe outright questions about Michaels’ face and beating him when he was young, among other things . The second interview with Joe is shown above, in which he and Majestik get insulted over Louisâ definition of âpartnerâ. Despite this, and Joeâs disturbing answers (âhe regurgitates all the way to the bankâ for instance), Louis keeps composure brilliantly, and despite never seeing Michael himself, creates a great documentary.
Louis explores what it takes to become a professional wrestler in the United States, visiting both the large WCW shows and meeting wrestlers such as Roddy Piper and Goldberg, as well as smaller, more extreme factions of the subculture, namely the AIWF, which are famous for their use of barbed wire and other weapons. He discovers a âschoolâ of wrestling called the âPower Plantâ â a place where all professional wrestlers learn their art and along the way meets their hot-headed trainer, Sarge. During his questioning, Louis tries to establish how much of the action in the ring is planned before hand, and to what extent the wrestlers know whatâs going to happen. This question angers Sarge, who takes it as an insult to their athletic abilities. It is interesting to see how openly the smaller wrestling organizations talk about the âsoap opera in spandexâ, and how they plan the storylines, while the bigger corporations give Louis a hard time about it. When Louis visits the Power Plant, Sarge puts him through his paces to prove a point. The amusing result is in the clip above, although it doesnât show Louis trying to run away, or him throwing up outside.
The principles of Black Nationalism are simply black âunityâ and independence from the white society. In this documentary, Louis explores the more extreme spectrum of BN, with ideas bordering on separatism, racism and complete black superiority. He travels to Harlem, New York, and meets various people involved in the movement, including Reverend Al Sharpton â a black civil rights activist, and Khalid Abdul Muhammed, a black separatist dubbed âthe most dangerous man in Americaâ. The film also focuses on the shooting of Amadou Diallo, a young black man who was shot 41 times by a group of white police officers, with Louis attending a protest for his justice with Reverend Sharpton. A memorable part is when Louis shops with Khalid Muhammed as he reveals his dislike for the white man and how the white race is âabsolutely disagreeable to get along with in peaceâ. Even further along the spectrum is the âIsraelite School of Universal Practical Knowledgeâ â an extreme, all-black group that believe various figures from history including Jesus, Henry VIII and William Shakespeare were undoubtedly all black. He meets this school in the clip above.
Louis Theroux, himself, stated in an interview after finishing this documentary that the Phelps family, (the family at the heart of this film), were the most extreme people he had ever met. Despite this, however, they were very kind, articulate and, especially the younger members, pleasant. The Phelps family, which is headed by Fred Phelps, run the âWestboro Baptist Churchâ in Kansas â a hate group with its core message being âGod hates Fagsâ. Their twisted interpretation of the bible has lead them to believe that all tragedies on Earth are because of homosexuality, which is considered to be the worst sin of all, and the publicâs increasing acceptance of homo and bi sexuality. They were made famous because the church regularly picket funerals of fallen soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with signs such as âThank god for dead soldiersâ and âGod hates fag soldiersâ. As with all of his documentaries, Louis manages to keep a level, unbiased opinion of the family despite their extremism, accompanying them on protests and seeing their whole belief âsystemâ for what it is. In this clip, Shirley Phelps explains the basis of their beliefs and tries to claim that âThou shalt not commit adulteryâ is about homosexuality, also claiming God âdoes evilâ. As you will see, itâs quite outrageous, but Louis remains utterly calm about it.
In one of my favorite documentaries of his, Louis spends a few weeks in San Quentin prison in San Francisco, one of Americaâs toughest prisons and home to âgangbangersâ, rapists and murderers. Louis focuses on a group of prisoners, though not in as much detail as some subjects in his other films. These include the guards, a gang member called âPlayboy Nolanâ and a man called âDavid Silverâ who is serving 500 years plus 11 life sentences. Throughout the film, the fact that Louis is surrounded by murderers and rapists all the time, not just while in the yard or eating with them, is surreal. During his stay, he starts to focus on friendships between people of the same race, and also relationships in the prison, including a transgender woman named Deborah, who shares a cell with her boyfriend. Despite the gloomy aesthetics of the place, it is home to plenty of interesting people with whom Louis connects in some ways. In other ways, he makes them speak about things a little more than they would like to. In the clip, he speaks to a group of white men in the prison yard about the racial segregation, and their crimes.
âLaw and Disorder in Philadelphiaâ and âLaw and Disorder in Johannesburgâ make up the 2008 Law and Disorder specials, where Louis travels to areas of the world that are plagued with crime and trouble. He rides around with a special policing unit in the city of Philadelphia, and experiences the horrors and threats of gun crime and shootings as they take on the so-called âWar on Drugsâ. During the episode he speaks to various people who have been arrested by the police for possession of a gun, drug dealers, addicts and even a drug lord. In Johannesburg, he spends time with various private security agencies, including one that âarrestsâ criminals and beats them. While being a lot grittier and extreme than Philadelphia, it doesnât feel as serious and despite being present at the beating of a man, and multiple warnings of being shot or mobbed, Louis doesnât seem too shocked or afraid. Saying this, the scene in which the security firm deal with a disturbance in the street is almost too graphic to watch. Throughout the documentaries, Louis wears his bullet proof vest and does his usual âwide-eyed innocentâ routine to get these various people to talk to him, though not in a way he, or anyone watching expects. The clip shows this brilliantly as Louis meets two South African criminals and has a very disturbing interview where one describes how heâd get Louisâ money by cutting his wifeâs throat or by putting his child in an oven.
Louis finds out there are fewer male porn performers on the planet than there is astronauts, while on a quest to investigate the American porn film industry, from the point of view of a man in the business. While normally he would be there purely as a journalist, in this episode he gets in relatively deeply with groups that he meets, and in the industry itself, even being offered a part in a porn film. He enrolls in a âtalentâ agency, and is invited on set during the filming of porn films to find out first-hand about how âeasyâ it is. He sees the money, and the problems associated with the business, including people destroying themselves with drugs because of it, and also the threat of HIV. He spends time with a (then) up-and-coming pornstar, J.J.Michaels, who seems ignorant of the risks of the industry, and also discovers an actor called Troy who, while claiming to be straight, appears in gay films, and is as the industry says, âgay for payâ. In the clip, a director named Rob Black tries to get Louis into the industry with Louis claiming itâs ânot something people in England are ready to seeâ.
Louis gets to grips with the white supremacist and neo-Nazi movement, living among racist people whose world views are among the most abhorrent conceivable. He meets a man deemed the most dangerous racist in America, Tom Metzger, who was a grand dragon of the KKK in the 70âs, a congressional candidate, and now the leader of a white resistance group. Among others, he meets a mother who pushes her world view on her two 11 year old daughters who regularly sing at skinhead rallies and are seen singing racist songs during an awkward car journey. Throughout this documentary, Louis seems to have two objectives; to see how these ideas influence children who are brought up around them, and also to expose flaws in their thinking and find contradictions. He follows Tom Metzger and his shady âagentâ to Mexico and also to a skinhead rally, as well as questioning the two young girls on the morals they seem to uphold (although being too young to understand them and answering in a way that made their motherâs brainwashing apparent). Louis finds Tom Metzger to have an immigrant friend from Peru, for whom he fixes televisions, and this provides a basis for the inconsistencies.
In one part, he visits a man called âSkipâ whoâs whole family are skinheads/racists. After being accused of being Jewish by them, Louis doesnât answer because he believes answering would mean he accepts that for some reason it should matter what his religion is, when he doesnât think it should. Despite threats, surprisingly, Louis keeps this up for a while longer, until the two questioning him walk off and Louis leaves alone. This for me was the most memorable moment of his documentaries, and took quite a lot of balls for him to do, especially after Skip says if he was Jewish heâd âKick his ass and leave him in the street somewhereâ. In the clip above, Louis meets Tomâs Peruvian friend, Oscar, and questions him on the way home about his warped view. Tom gets owned.