Louis Theroux is a British journalist whose documentaries have garnered a heap of praise over the years, and if you haven't heard of him, we seriously suggest you have a Louis Theroux marathon this Xmas by watching all of his works. most of which can now be found on Netflix.
The documentaries, which often take the form of a Gonzo-style journalism (a style of reporting told in the first person with Louis as its main character) sees the socially-awkward Brit come face-to-face with people many would label weird, abnormal, or in some cases, deplorable.
In a nutshell, Louis's topics of interest are often what makes his documentaries impressive, and coupled with his inquisitive nature and awkward mannerisms; you get a collection of unique documentaries that have captivated audiences all over the world.
With that in mind, Lifehack Lane has decided to take a look at some of the intrepid journalist's greatest works, as well as some yet-to-be-made documentaries that we think would make great additions to Louis' canon of work should he ever run out of ideas.
Louis Theroux's Best Documentaries
Weird Weekends was Louis' first foray into the world of televisual journalism, and it was a great success. Of the 18 episodes, which were each around 30-minutes long, the series explored an array of fringe groups in America and Louis threw himself right into their world.
Enthralling in their subject matters, Weird Weekends saw Louis get up-close-and-personal with everyone and everything, from UFO enthusiasts and porn stars to pick-up artists and swinger clubs without ever passing judgment. If anything, he often seemed enamored by the actions and beliefs of his subjects, and it was his willingness to do almost anything (in one episode he strips naked when reporting on Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley porn district) that marked Theroux out as an extraordinary and likable storyteller.
The Most Hated Family in America
The Phelps family have become infamous in recent years for their bigoted and outright deplorable views on anything that goes against their church's scripture but Louis attempted to get to know them on a more personal level.
Following 'The Most Hated Family In America' around, Theroux quickly discovers why such a label exists and accompanies them on various pickets as members of the family promote their church with placards reading 'God Hates Fags' and 'Thank God For Dead Soldiers.'
Admittedly, even with the Brit's charms, this isn't an easy watch but there are also times of laughter, and that's no doubt thanks to Theroux who, while seeking answers on a tough subject matter, quickly realises that there is more to this family than initially meets the eye.
Documenting the lives of prisoners is nothing new but Louis Theroux's documentary on San Quentin prison was different to many in the sense that it gave a voice to prisoners often labeled irredeemable and dangerous.
Filmed roaming the prison courtyard, Louis ends up engaging in a plethora of fascinating conversations, including one with a gang member called ‘Playboy Nolan’ and a man serving 500 years after being convicted of 11 murders.
Louis also interviews a transgender woman sharing a cell with her boyfriend, and it's moments like those that serve as a reminder that prisons, while highly nightmarish, are often settings where you'll find some of life's most compelling characters.
Louis and the Nazis
When Louis is granted access to some of America's most dangerous racists, you already know you're in for one hell of a ride. In this case, his subjects included Tom Metzger, a former grand dragon of the KKK in the ’70s, and believe it or not, a one-time congressional candidate. Another person he meets is a mother of two 11-year-olds, who she regularly takes to skinhead rallies and has them sings racist songs to while Louis is in the car.
The most unsettling scene comes when he meets a skinhead called “Skip” whose family are skinheads too. When questioned if Louis was Jewish, he refuses to reply because admitting he wasn't would mean pandering to his views. But it's already clear to the insular views of Skip and his family that his answer was self-explanatory and two of them questioning him walk away. Again, this highlighted that Louis wasn't afraid to throw himself in the deep end, especially when Skip admitted earlier in the interview that if he (Louis) was Jewish, he’d “Kick his ass and leave him in the street somewhere”.
Louis and Michael
While Louis's hopes for an interview with Michael Jackson six years before his tragic death proved futile, he did manage to secure an interview with his father Joe Jackson in the 2003 documentary, Louis, and Michael. The documentary has many stumbling blocks- it takes $5000 simply to secure an interview with his father- but Joe Jackson's interview was nonetheless a fascinating portrait into how one parent's pursuit of success soon led to a breakdown in communication with many of his sons.
On several occasions Louis comes close to securing a blockbuster interview with Michael and even manages to talk to two of his friends and close confidants; his personal magician Majestik Magnificent and Uri Geller. However, the request is ultimately turned down by Geller and was granted to Martin Bashir instead, who would go onto shed further light on the alleged crimes of child abuse levied against Michael.
Extreme Love: Autism
Autism is a condition that has become increasingly ubiquitous in recent years, helped by medical professionals' furthered understanding of it, something Louis Theroux finds out when he visits a school in America catered for autism. Unlike other Louis Theroux documentaries, this one is less hard-hitting and more pathos-inducing, such are the incredibly heart-warming stories profiled.
It's also worth noting that the documentary was followed by a sister episode entitled Extreme Love: Dementia which explores the heart-rending accounts of those who have or are in the process of losing their memory to Alzheimer's. While inquisitive and wanting to know about their struggles, Theroux comes across as a warm and compassionate person who builds up trusted relationships with his subjects in a way few other journalists could.
The Ultra Zionists
The Israel and Palestine debate has long been a contentious one with many people's views on the subject usually being dogmatic and one-sided. But Louis doesn't fall privy to that and instead demonstrates a strong grasp of telling both sides. Profiled in the documentary are a group of Ultra Zionists and nationalists residing near The West Banks' border.
Interviewing them, Louis asks whether they think it right that land which isn't recognized by other nations should be claimed based on the scripture of a religious text. Those interviewed went on a long-winded rant about the importance of reclaiming their land, even in areas Israel does not recognize while an Australian Zionist who specializes in 'rehousing' Israelis in Palestinian occupied territory describes the secret trading relationships that go on between the Arabs and Jews.
Gambling in Las Vegas
Las Vegas may be synonymous with glamour, but there is an underbelly to a city built in the middle of the Nevada desert few profile. But Louis did, and quite brilliantly. As well as interviewing the high-rollers there was also an array of others interviewed, including a retired doctor who lost $4m in just seven years by gambling on the slots.
A compelling outlook into a city many have long associated with sin, the documentary, without falling privy to sneering at its subjects instead presents a fascinating look at the lives which revolve around the city's main source of revenue and the relationship the casinos have with their most loyal customers.
The City Addicted to Crystal Meth
While interviewing many people in society- which have included sex offenders and murderers to name but a few- it was arguably Theroux's stark look at Fresno, California's crystal meth problem that is arguably his most captivating documentary.
As with the standard tropes associated with Vegas, people's preconceived idea of California is one of made up of postcard dreams and scenic beauty. But in reality, there are many areas just like Fresno riddled with crime and poverty. The Guardian described the documentary "an extraordinary film," and "a sad portrait of a very different California."
Louis Theroux Takes on......
The Male Modeling Industry
How interesting would this be? The world of modeling may not be as fringe and abnormal as most of the British journalist's subject matters, but modeling itself has always been controversial. Yet most issues that plague the fashion industry, such as anorexia and dealing with unwanted advances from photographers is mostly reported within the more coveted world of female modeling which is why an in-depth analysis of the male world would make for a fascinating twist.
As well as dealing with similar issues to the women, though likely not to the same extent, the male modeling industry is one of the few professions in the world where the men are paid less than their female counterparts. Forbes' only rich list of male models, conducted in 2013, found the top male earner's $1.5m takings lagged far behind the juggernauts of the female industry, with the highest paid female model that year, the Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, taking home a whopping $42m.
Louis, are you listening to this?
What was once a controversial cosmetic procedure has turned into a deadly industry which most recently led to the tragic passing of a 49-year-old British woman who had travelled to Hungry for a €5,000 + procedure. Sadly these incidents are becoming increasingly common, but if Louis took this subject matter on, and interviewed leading surgeons in the field, and even traveled to the birthplace of the trend in the febrile nation of Brazil, it could open our eyes up to the industry in ways we haven't been exposed to before.
Admittedly, Louis's terrific 2007 documentary Under The Knife explored cosmetic industry in great detail, but a documentary dedicated to this troubling surgery would certainly be thought-provoking and have a classically Louis-feel to it.
Climate Change Deniers
This would be hilarious. Well, if you're on the side who believes that climate change poses the most significant threat to humankind in thousands of years. Still, there are many out there who don't believe in climate change at all or at least are of the opinion that its effects have been greatly exaggerated by scientists to further their agendas in the field.
So what could Louis do about this? He could probably head south to Texas. There are bound to be ardent climate change deniers there. Heck, he could even go on one of the various rallies by environmentalists and get up close and personal with those who take their protesting too far. Done well and Louis would certainly gain fascinating perspectives from both sides in ways your everyday news reporter hasn't been able to.
Flat Earth Supporters
Despite the scientific know-how of many great scientists, as well as evidence from Nasa photographers that the Earth is round, some are opposed to this theory, and they go by the name of "Flat Earthers." But of course, with the Internet the way it is, many of these so-called Flat Earthers have been poked fun of online. So unpopular are these people that even Logan Paul, the much-maligned YouTuber, decided to prank them at one of their conferences by pretending to come out of the "Flat Earth closest."
But rather than engage in online ridicule, finding out more about these people could offer up some much-needed insight into the movement. Louis is no stranger to this. He has done these types of documentaries many times, exploring everything from commercial churches and radical protest groups to those who believe in UFOs.
The World's Nicest Prisons
Louis has entered some of the most dangerous prisons and mental health hospitals in America, but has he ever set foot in a so-called luxury prison? In Scandinavia and other parts of Europe, many of these ultra-modern correctional facilities offer a host of amenities for prisoners, with tennis courts, private bathrooms and bar-free windows all commonplace.
Just take Austria's Justizzentrum Leoben Prison, often referred to as the ultimate "5 Star Prison." The prison cells alone are arguably the finest in the world, with all 205 equipped with modern furnishings, leather chairs and ambient lighting that make for rooms that wouldn't look out of place in a four-star hotel. And that's not all. Overlooking their cells sits an expansive courtyard with a two-in-one soccer pitch and basketball court.
But while the bizarre nature of a comfortable prison will provide a certain level of interest, the crux of the documentary could revolve around Theroux talking to the prisoners and guards and coming to his own conclusion on whether such unusual approaches to rehabilitation are a good idea compared to the robust justice administered in most areas of the world.