Louis Theroux's witty and non-judgemental approach to documentary-making has earned him a reputation of making some of the most entertaining films of recent times. Whether he's immersing himself in strange subcultures or moving in with eccentric celebrities, he uses his good manners and gentle humour to put his subjects at their ease, and in the process succeeds in getting them to open up and reveal so much more of themselves than they ever intended.
An Innocent Abroad
- Louis Theroux Collection review by Count Otto Black
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To be honest, I was a little disappointed revisiting Louis Theroux after all these years. This particular collection focuses heavily on people with odd sex-lives that, since the internet took over the world, seem a bit tame, racists whose horrendous views are just plain depressing, and conspiracy theorists whose odd ideas are nowadays downright commonplace next to your typical internet kook who calls everybody else "sheeple". As for the celebrities he spends time with, we're mostly talking about B-listers who have either lost it or never had it, and think that this unwitting fool will provide them with free publicity.
As for how foolish Louis Theroux really is, that's a hard question to answer. It's always been his trademark that he pretends to be the naive person on the planet, thus tempting his interviewees to say more to him than they really meant to. Yet he goes very easy indeed on Neil Hamilton, a corrupt MP who took bribes, was the very last UK politician to support leaded petrol because money was more important than all that health-scare nonsense, and has repeatedly endorsed borderline or actual Fascist political causes, including directly supporting Mussolini's granddaughter's ultra-right-wing ambition. And even the notorious Jimmy Saville episode ends with Louis admitting that he still quite likes him.
It should be noted that, although the episode with Neil Hamilton and his wife Christine became famous because of the incredibly strange and utterly fake sexual assault allegations that coincidentally surfaced while he was in their company, it would have been, as he himself admits, probably too dull to broadcast if their shamelessly smug self-promotion hadn't been spiced up by this dramatic turn of events. You'd think he might have found excuses to raise the tension just a little bit by making a few Fascist connections, as he did with many people stupider and less media-savvy than the Hamiltons. But of course, they weren't in a position to scupper the entire episode by refusing to cooperate any further, so he could be a little tougher on the nobodies, a fault apparent in almost all of his "hanging out with a celebrity he pretends to like" documentaries.
By far the most famous program Louis Theroux ever made (and by far the most fascinating thing in this collection) is his documentary on Jimmy Saville. It's clear from the get-go that there's something horribly wrong with the man, and his utter inability to empathize with anybody at all, his honest belief that admitting his primary motive for charity work was to make people think he was wonderful didn't devalue it, his repeated claims that he could get away with anything because he was "the Godfather", and the moment when he admits on camera that he has to tell lies to the media about his feelings concerning children to avoid accusations of molesting them (amongst many other things) make it very plain that we're looking at a clinical psychopath. Yet Louis never quite seems to get it. Of course, he may have been faking stupidity in order to encourage other equally vile people to expose themselves on his show. But if that's true, isn't that ever almost as tacky and unethical as all the things he claims to be having a go at?
So in the end it's a very mixed bag. Some of it's too dated to be of interest, some of it's just plain mediocre, and some of it's so riveting that it pushes the average score up. But too much of it's overshadowed by the feeling that either the presenter really is an idiot, or, more likely, he's cynically pretending to be one, and avoiding hard questions if they might put off potential interviewees from appearing on future shows, even if that means going far too easy on people ranging from the very dubious to the absolutely inexcusable, unless of course they're expendable nobodies. And that makes me think more of Louis Theroux as an actor, but less of him as a human being.