I have recently enjoyed reading Louis Theroux’s autobiography. The book was a kind gift from my friend Susan and it is a wonderful autobiography. I have always enjoyed reading autobiographies. Consequently, it is probably the genre from which I have read most. I hope you enjoy reading my Gotta Get Theroux This book review.
Who is Louis Theroux?
Most people know who he is! However, for those who do not know, Louis is a journalist and documentary film maker. He initially had a cult following. I think that saying he has a cult following does him a disservice. He is a stalwart of the BBC and has a very wide appeal. As such his status from cult to mainstream appeal transitioned quickly.
The documentaries he has made, seeking out weird, wonderful and often rather nasty subjects has created an unrivalled body of work. As a result his work will stand the test of time as an important body of anthropological study.
I am a big fan of Jack Kerouac and I wonder if Louis has read any of his books. The following Kerouac quote from On the Road could easily have been the criteria for the selection of subjects / guests featured in Louis’ documentaries;
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Documentary maker and journalist
Louis’ journey into journalism and documentary film making is interesting. He did not set out with a burning desire to enter that world. Louis worked on a free alternative newspaper in Silicon Valley after graduating from university. Entry into the world of documentary making came through a one-off segment on the TV Nation show. This started a journey which continues today and has seen Louis win prestigious industry awards for his documentaries and work.
The journalistic and documentary film making profession comes with pressures. There is the need to keep creating interesting content and coming up with original ideas. Louis is open about his self doubt through his career and his feelings of being an imposter! An added layer of pressure which Louis acutely felt was from his father. Paul Theroux is a famous American Travel writer and novelist. The pressure stemmed from living in the shadow of an already established and successful parent.
Louis adopts an interesting approach to his documentaries. He is very involved in coming up with the ideas and topics. The research team then go to work and undertake recce trips and arrange subjects. Louis has limited involvement in this side of production. His approach is to be fresh to the subjects so that the first meeting as filmed is the real deal. This is an approach that he picked up and developed from his time working with Michael Moore on TV Nation.
The subjects and topics covered by Louis are vast. Follow the link at the end of this review to check them out.
Louis’ approach to documentary making and his interactions with people is always to try and see the rounded person. He never takes the approach of having preconceived ideas about people. In essence he approaches his subject with what, in Buddhism, is called beginners mind. It is this openness and blank page approach that clearly endears Louis to most of his subjects. Interestingly though, Louis does not give them an easy ride. He is ready to challenge his subjects with ease and ask those awkward questions at pertinent times.
Even with some of his most repugnant subjects he is able to show, even if only a glimpse, another side to people. Sometimes that may be a kind softer side or it can be a glimpse into the twisted justification for a particular view point or stance. Louis has an ability to draw out these deeper and more complex aspects to his subjects. Consequently his subjects develop as complex individuals rather than one dimensional.
Louis reflects in the book on the complexity of human character. In his documentaries he shows that people are not 100% good or 100% bad. Louis reflects that is it not even a scale but something much more complex that creates individuals.
Louis addresses the issue of Jimmy Savile in this book. After his death, Savile was discovered to have been one of the most prolific sex offenders and abusers ever known.
Louis approached the initial documentary with the idea of finding out about Savile. The colourful, eccentric, quirky and downright odd ageing retired DJ and celebrity. The When Louis Met Jimmy documentary did reveal a slightly darker side to Savile but no hint of what subsequently came to light. As a result, Louis went through a period of self reflection, questioning how he was not able to unmask Savile.
Interestingly, Louis reflects that he at times liked Savile despite finding him quite annoying. They intermittently stayed in contact.
Louis revisited Savile in a subsequent documentary to both professionally and personally address the discovery of his crimes. In his book, Louis reflects that the qualities of Savile that made him likeable and charismatic were the qualities he used to hide his evil side. Qualities he used to evade discovery and capture during his lifetime. Louis reflects that we ignore these aspects of his character at our peril. We need to understand how Savile evaded capture. Retrospectively portraying him as a one dimensional character with a sole intent of pure evil could lead to us failing to understand the complexities of character that allowed him to go undetected. As such we risk failing to identify future such offenders.
It is clear that involvement with Savile had a profound effect on Louis. Sleepless nights, self reflection and self doubt ensued.
It would be remiss not to mention Louis’ ‘My Scientology Movie’ in my Gotta Get Theroux this book review. Making this movie proved an interesting challenge for Louis. He was tailed by Private Investigators and there was clearly a feeling of threat.
The movie also marked a breakthrough into documentary film making. The film became very popular and received awards.
Gotta Get Theroux This finishes with a reflection on the human condition and just how weird it is to experience life! There is a strangely moving part where Louis revisits an old neighbourhood where he lived in Brooklyn. The passage of time having rendered the place unfamiliar and unrecognisable. In contrast, Louis is transported back to familiarity when he smells the unique aroma of the New York Subway.
Gotta Get Theroux This book review
I would highly recommend this book. It provides interesting background and insights into the documentaries that Louis made. As a result you get a window into how Louis felt towards his subjects and the ongoing relationship that a journalist has with their subjects. Sometimes that relationship will be enjoyable and friendly and other times it can be quite the opposite. The weight and pressure that difficult subjects heap upon the journalists involved is not to be underestimated.
I am left with the feeling that the Louis we see on screen is the Louis that you would meet should you bump into him in the street. An endearing, quintessentially British in character, nice guy. Keep up the great work Louis!
If you enjoyed our Gotta Get Theroux this book review you can purchase a copy below. As a member of Amazon associates, we will earn a commission if you purchase the following items on Amazon from the links below;
Louis has started a BBC Podcast to help people during the Coronavirus lockdown, the first episode will be available very soon. You can access it through this link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p089sjcd
Here is a link to all the documentaries that Louis Theroux has made, many of which are discussed in Gotta Get Theroux This: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Louis_Theroux_documentaries
You can check out our previous book reviews here: https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/