In the build-up to Louis Theroux’s upcoming Scientology film, set for cinema release on 14th October, it’s hugely interesting to reflect on the work of one of the UK’s most prolific and revered documentary filmmakers. Taking into account the scale of his ever increasing repertoire, it’s hard to predict Theroux’s next step, with his impressive back catalogue spanning nearly two decades and covering a plethora of rarely approached topics, from the porn industry, to UFO hunters, to neo-Nazis. Preceding the hotly anticipated My Scientology Movie, however, was the recently aired BBC Two documentary, Savile, a follow-up to 2000’s When Louis Met Jimmy, in which Louis Theroux entered the personal world of the late entertainer, long before the truth surfaced about his extensive history of sexual abuse, rape and paedophilia.
Savile is an uncomfortable and, at times, downright unpleasant viewing experience, as victims meet with Louis to speak candidly and honestly about the horrific abuse they suffered at the hands of a man who was, for a time, considered a national treasure. Indeed, Theroux himself in the documentary reflects on his own personal guilt at having trusted Savile and even considered him a friend during the time they knew one another. At one point, one of his interviewees, Sam, turns the discussion around and asks Theroux if he felt he too was ‘groomed’ by Savile, to which he hesitates and suggests that ‘groomed’ is too strong a word. However, it is definitely clear from his response that he feels deceived, much like the rest of the world, by Savile’s poisonous façade, which adds an interesting new facet to the documentary which isn’t present in his other productions. His involvement and self-described ‘friendship’ with Savile, and the subsequent examination of his own conscience and the suspicions he held at the time of their encounters with one another, help to create a documentary in which the spotlight falls upon its creator just as much as its participants.
The continued success of Theroux and his insightful, boundary-pushing documentaries is a credit to both his meticulous, inquisitive style as a writer and, perhaps more importantly, his consistently respectful and unbiased approach when reaching out to various groups and individuals within society. This naturalistic, human, and agenda-free attitude with which Theroux approaches those who feature in his films provides viewers with a refreshing and often shocking look at a whole range of unconventional lifestyles, strange pursuits, beliefs and ideologies, and is surely one of the key factors behind his popularity. His uninhibited and unrelenting questioning style most definitely adds an element of intrigue and exclusivity which simply isn’t seen in most other documentaries.
Looking back at his various exports, from Weird Weekends, BBC Two specials and his When Louis Met… series, to his current spate of standalone documentaries, there are very few taboo topics Louis Theroux hasn’t yet ventured into. It’s hopeful, and likely, that the sense of ambition and relentless curiosity which underpins his filmmaking will inspire the next generation of exciting documentary makers. After the harrowing, yet eye-opening experience of watching Savile, Louis Theroux is once again a name on everyone’s lips, particularly with trailers circulating for the imminent release of My Scientology Movie. It is no easy task to document a religion so shrouded in mystery and confusion, yet followed by some of the world’s most influential celebrities, but if anyone is capable of producing something compelling and illuminating, it’s undoubtedly Louis Theroux.
This post also features as part of The Mancunion newspaper, where I contribute regularly.