A new documentary season on BBC iPlayer sees a collection of films from the BBC archive specially selected by filmmaker and journalist Louis Theroux. The man behind My Scientology Movie made his choices based on documentaries that had directly influenced him.
Journalist Louis Theroux, the man behind My Scientology Movie (the film-within-a-film about the failure to make a documentary about secretive religion) has searched the BBC’s archive to curate a special selection of films that he says have had an influence on him as a documentarian.
The BBC veteran, whose work has titillated, fascinated, angered, amused and shocked us over the years, continues to make some of the network’s best documentaries including recently spending time with the Milwaukee police investigating rising gun crime and social unrest in the age of Black Lives Matter.
His work has sobered somewhat from his early career making “Weird Weekends” when he was infamously put through hell by professional wrestlers after unwittingly ridiculing the sport as “fake”. He also hung out with various niche subcultures from amateur porn stars, swingers and UFO enthusiasts to neo-nazis and survivalists.
Perhaps most famously he spent several weeks with disgraced TV personality Jimmy Savile prior to the full extent of the Jim’ll Fix It presenter’s predatory sexual behaviour coming to light. Theroux tried to press Savile on allegations of impropriety and child sex abuse during the film, which was made 11 years before Savile’s death, but found his subject always had a way of manipulating the conversation to self-serve his own interests.
In hindsight, after many women came forward detailing sexual abuse at the hands of Savile, this manipulation of a seasoned journalist is unsettling in the way it details the predatory capacity of someone who had no trouble exerting control, regardless of the situation. This played on Theroux’s mind, particularly after Savile’s death, prompting a follow-up documentary investigating the disgraced man’s victims.
Theroux, the cousin of actor Justin Theroux, is responsible for such an array of documentary work that his handpicked films from the BBC archive makes for fascinating viewing. He said, “Each of [these documentaries] had an impact on me in a different way. They cover a range of styles – some vérité-driven, others told more through interview – but in all of them you see life at its most raw, its most strange and therefore its most human. I hope BBC iPlayer viewers enjoy them as much as I have.”
Spanning from 1975 to 2016 these films explore a fitting range of issues like alcoholism and childhood delinquency. Indeed, Storyville’s Philip and his Seven Wives deals with polygamy in the UK. “I love documentaries that are about weird religious behaviour, but I also like subjects that are about unconventional sexual behaviour, and Philip and His Seven Wives has both of those,” says Theroux.
“It’s a very intimate look inside how that works, what’s driving Philip and what’s driving the women involved with him, and it’s done very well. It could have been a kind of tawdry and tabloid-ish style doc but it’s done very poetically.
The full line-up which is available now on BBC iPlayer includes Inside Story: Mini; Fourteen Days in May; Storyville: Philip and His Seven Wives; Rain in My Heart; Between Life and Death; Exposed: Magicians, Psychics & Frauds; and Life and Death Row.