Louis Theroux's Documentary Playlist on BBC iPlayer Is Everything You Need For Summer Nights In
Last year, in a textbook case of insomnia-induced 5 a.m. online shopping, I purchased a t-shirt featuring an enormous screen print of Louis Theroux's face. There's a reason such an item was quite so easy to procure: Theroux is globally beloved, and it's not just down to his endearingly awkward delivery or 'Dad with a webcam' Twitter profile picture. The filmmaker is one of the most engaging, prolific, and critically acclaimed documentarians on the scene, so it's pretty darn exciting to hear about Louis Theroux's new documentary playlist on BBC iPlayer, featuring works that shaped his own films. Whether you're an aspiring documentary filmmaker, have exhausted every documentary on Netflix, or you're just plain devoted to Theroux, there's likely to be a film or two that's up your street.
"It is an absolute privilege to be part of sharing these wonderful, powerful documentaries," he told the BBC. "Each of them 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."
Included amongst Theroux's selection are Fourteen Days in May, a 1987 documentary following the last days of an American man facing the death sentence; Rain in My Heart (2006), a raw, candid insight into alcoholism; and Exposed: Magicians, Psychics & Frauds, a 2014 documentary about a debunker of the paranormal.
Don't bother checking the weather forecast this weekend, and tell your friends you won't be making it to the pub. You know where you're going to be: in front of your laptop, snacks in hand, marathoning every documentary on Theroux's playlist. Wondering where to start? Here's a little taster of your upcoming weekend viewing.
1.Inside Story: Mini (1975)
What leads an 11-year-old to commit arson? That's what filmmaker Franc Roddam attempted to determine with his 1975 documentary following Michael 'Mini' Cooper, whose former targets included a church and his own home — with his dad inside. "I’m always interested in behaviour that is obviously self-destructive or criminal, especially when the person involved seems to have likeable, positive qualities, intelligence and creativity and quirkiness, all of which Mini, this 11-year-old, has in abundance," Theroux commented on the film's inclusion. "You just really fall in love with this boy as you go on the journey with him."
2. Fourteen Days In May (1987)
The only evidence used to convict Edward Earl Johnson of murder was a confession he said he was forced to sign; but despite strong indiciations of his innocence, he was executed in Mississippi in 1987. Paul Hamann's documentary covers the final days before Johnson was executed, using his case to argue that the death penalty is disproportionately delivered to African Americans over white Americans. "Many documentaries that are terrific come and go but this one is one that I think most people involved in documentaries will have seen and would agree that it’s a powerful and important piece of storytelling," Theroux told the BBC. Commenting on a major scene towards the end of the film, he added: "It ratified a sense that I had that rules are meant to be broken."
3. Storyville: Philip And His Seven Wives (2006)
Philip Sharp, an antiques dealer and former rabbi, received a missive from God telling him that he was a Hebrew king; and in order to live like one, Sharp shares his life with seven wives. Mark Isaacs' sensitive and charming documentary examines family and faith through Sharp and his wives. Theroux commented to the BBC: "It could have been a kind of tawdry and tabloid-ish style doc but it’s done very poetically."
4. Rain In My Heart (2006)
Paul Watson's documentary follows four patients at the Gillingham Medway Maritime Hospital as they grapple with alcoholism: 43-year-old Vanda, on her 31st year of drinking; Nigel, 49, whose ten years of sobriety haven't alleviated the impact of alcohol abuse on his body; 26-year-old Toni, who won't acknowledge her alcohol addiction; and Mark, 29, reliant on two bottles of vodka per day. It's an intimate, brutal documentary, and one that will cling to you in the days, or weeks, after you've watched.
5. Between Life And Death (2010)
Medical advances have enabled doctors to suspend death — and present loved ones with the terrible decisions once reserved for nature. Nick Holt's documentary traces the struggle of three families to make the right decision for their grievously injured relatives. Theroux told the BBC: "It was an influence on me in that it showed me that the small dramas of the recovery and the small dramas that take place in a hospital can be really powerful and dramatic." He explained that the documentary inspired his 2014 film Edge of Life (part of his LA Stories series) following terminally ill patients at Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre.
6. Exposed: Magicians, Psychics & Frauds (2014)
In this film, magician James Randi takes on Uri Geller, proclaimed bender of spoons, and televangelist Peter Popoff, in his quest to expose psychics, faith healers, fortune tellers, and other such swindlers. Theroux commented, "I’m interested in fakery and quackery and also this question of, which is at the heart of faith healing in general, 'is false hope better than no hope at all?’ This documentary deals with some of those questions and it’s a very entertaining watch." Most startling of all? It turns out Randi, enemy of the dupers, has himself been duped — and you'll never guess the culprit.
7. Life And Death Row — Truth (2016)
Teenagers Austin Myers and Timothy Mosley brutally murdered their 18-year-old friend, Justin Back, during an attempt to rob his home. Facing the death penalty, the killers present drastically different accounts of the crime, and ultimately receive significantly different sentences. In this documentary, director Ellena Wood speaks to the families of both the perpetrators and the victim in this harrowing film; Theroux told the BBC, "It’s powerful, it’s upsetting, and it really stays with you."
So there you have it. Your weekend sort by Mr Theroux himself. Enjoy!