At the intersection of comedy and tragedy lives documentary film maker Louis Theroux. His engaging, funny, heartbreaking and intelligent documentaries have only recently been introduced to me, but I haven’t been able to stop watching.
For the uninitiated (like myself until recently) Louis Theroux is a British broadcaster who started his television career on Michael Moore’s TV Nation before moving onto his own shows with Weird Weekends and When Louis Met.., and more recently a new series of one hour documentaries.
His programs generally involve investigating a curious subculture such as the life of swingers, rappers, televangelists, Thai brides, or white separatists. But what makes the programs so involving is Louis himself, who leads you into these sometimes abhorrent environments and allows you to see through his eyes, sharing the shock, laughter or heartbreak with him.
Although his style has been criticised as “faux-naÃ¯f” I find his disarming, often comedic, and sometimes baffled demeanor to be his greatest quality, he is almost Jim Halpert-esque at times, especially useful when entering as intense environments as San Quentin prison or the home of a Neo Nazi.
And while other film makers may chose to only observe, Louis often forms what appear to be quite genuine connections to the people he is investigating, whether it be his fondness for a particular prostitute in his program about a Nevada brothel, his impassioned attempt to bring clarity to a member of the Westboro Baptist Church or the truly incredible and bizarre turn of events that occurred during the filming of When Louis met the Hamiltons.
The comedic elements of his films are at times on par with the best of modern sitcoms, from the subtle to slapstick, the humour flows from the most unusual of situations, and is further intensified by Theroux’s own thoroughly likable self.
I haven’t been this taken by a personality or program since I first watched Top Gear or discovered The Office. His work transcends the gap between traditional documentary and scripted sitcom or drama, creating a narrative where at times I have completely forgotten I was watching real people.
Whereas many modern sitcoms are fake documentaries, at times Louis Theroux has managed to create the exact opposite, a real sitcom, or a real drama, an incredible achievement and a genre melding exercise that has left me giddy, enthralled and unable to think of anything else for days.